There’s bad news. There’s good news. And then there’s the kind of conversation we have here on The Good Men Project.
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This morning, like most mornings, I read The New York Times. Like most mornings, there was a lot of bad news. A shooting in a movie theater. On the call last week, we had talked about the ways in which the lines between fantasy and reality are blurring. People go to movies to escape reality. They don’t go to the movies expecting to have to try to escape from a killer.
The next headline—a poll on race relations says that 6 in 10 Americans—both white and black, think race relations re generally bad, and 4 in 10 think it is getting worse. This compares to 2/3’s who thought race relations were generally good when President Obama took office.
And then of course, there is the case of Sandra Bland, the woman who died in police custody. Since the Sandra is a woman you could say this is not about “men”, although of course it is—prison issues disproportionately affect men, racism is an economic system that was created and often perpetuated by men, struggles with police are power struggles, and I have only heard of male police officers killing suspects in custody. All issues of the issues relate back to the conversation about men, but the fact that this had a female in the main role allowed us to put a different lens on it and perhaps see the issues a little more clearly.
So what is good that is happening in the world today?
We often forget that the “good” is not usually defined by dramatic events. That why the news seems to focus on the bad, IMO — not because they are adverse to good news, not because it doesn’t sell—but because there is no inherent drama when something good happens. If money all of a sudden started raining down from the sky, for example – you can bet the news would be all over it. But that just doesn’t happen.
What does happen, and what I’m proud to say has happened in my lifetime, is something like the legalization of gay marriage. And that is something good which will impact almost everyone in some ways in the years ahead. Often, when something really bad happens, it has a profound effect on a small number of people.
For example, a gunman starts shooting in a Louisiana movie theater—those people’s lives are changed forever. I know that as someone who had been injured in the Boston Marathon—2 years later everyone who was injured, including me, is still getting medical treatment, still involved in programs, still getting contacted by the FBI. But most people don’t see that type of slow change either. My injuries were extremely minor compared to others injured, but even the most injured fade away from public consciousness.
When something good happens—the impact is less dramatic but more widespread and lasts longer. The way the legalization of gay marriage will affect the happiness of countless people now into the future is one example. Inventions, too—-you can’t see it at the time, and it’s an iterative process. Say what you will about technology, but smartphones, FB, ATM machines, online media—all changed people’s lives in ways we couldn’t have envisioned before. I for one would say that for all the problems brought on by technology, my life has been enriched in ways that were previously unfathomable. And maybe that is the thing about “good” change which is hard too—it’s not always dramatic, it unfolds over time, and it is mixed in with some negative consequences. So even though overall your life can change for the good—it’s not “good news”, per se. It’s more like the world starts unfolding in a different way than before, and hopefully opens up new opportunities in the process.
I want to finish up with a random news item which doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with men at all—-but of course, it always does.
Yesterday, NASA said one of its spacecrafts has spotted one of the closes matches to planet Earth’s yet: Kepler-452b.
It’s planet slightly bigger (60%) than the earth, and it revolves around a star that is much like our own sun. It has a year that is 385 days. It is 5% farther from its star than the earth—but that star is about 10% brighter.
All things considered, it looks an awful lot like earth does. Yes, it is 1,400 light-years away, but hey.
As NASA scientist Jon Jenkins said, “Today, Earth is a little less lonely.”
One reason this relates to our conversation about men is that men have always been the leaders when it comes to exploring new lands and new space. (Mind you, they haven’t always done it nicely, but that’s another discussion).
And there are a lot of people who say, why spend all that money on space when there are so many problems here at home?
A commenter on a post on The Good Men Project explained it well: “New Horizons cost was $640 million, saved up for 15 years. NASA’s budget is *tiny*, and were we to disband it today, the effect on the US economy would be negligible. You could build one or two new schools with the cost of this mission, but you couldn’t staff them….Neil deGrasse Tyson has repeatedly pointed out that it is the previous generation that makes the next generation of scientists… Kids see the Mercury missions, the Apollo missions, the Voyager missions… they grow up dreaming of asteroids and planets and rockets.
Another factor you are nicely forgetting is the advantages we get from space science. What we got from the Apollo missions wasn’t just a bunch of moon rocks and a “America!” moment, we got better computers, velcro, plastics, remote video, insulation foam, powdered lubricants, artificial limbs… The simple tackling of a massive problem spins off dozens of technologies which we apply in our everyday lives.”
And I’d like to highlight that one thought: “The simple task of solving a massive problem spins off solutions to dozens of other problems.”
And that is part of what we are doing with The Good Men Project. We are looking to solve the problem of the way men have been negatively stereotyped, we are looking to solve a really big problem—and with it a lot of other really big problems—and we’re looking to bring a vision of “what is good?” that will change things in ways we can’t yet see.
I’d like to open the discussion up to the group now.
Jerry Waxler: I’d like to start with a revolutionary concept about the good news / bad news scenario—that they are all related to the same thing.
Bad news tends to be adrenaline focused and mob oriented. Violence, shooting, outbreaks of disease, big scary trends, war. Those are the things that cause us to run to our television to see. Mob thinking pulls us into our lower, animal brains. But the things we need to make a healthy society, such as individual moral depth and wholeness – those are not part of the mob mentality. They are things we need to work on within ourselves. [Side note: how do we work on ourselves and yet do it all together? Haha – Good Men’s Project is a good start. Memoirs are another one.]
I’m hoping the 21st century will allow us to get past the Us vs. Them mentality. And it will do so in part through stories. Story is governed by a part of the brain that pulls it all together.
The stories of the transgender individuals who are coming to the forefront now blow apart the idea that it is men vs. women, but that we are both things together. Just like Obama blew apart the black vs. white by being both. For me, Us vs. Them is over. Let’s move on. –
Cynthia Barnett: For people of faith, they may recognize this Judeo-Christian saying from Genesis: “All made are male and female.” All of us are made of male and female qualities. What is really encouraging to me lately is to see so many of the so-called female qualities in men, and seeing them have value. Qualities like sensitivity and gentleness. It also gives me hope to think that the arts can be acknowledged. We may experience artistic experiences as individuals, but we also experience them as communities.
Vince Isner: I’m in the arts myself, and as we share and experience art together, stereotypes can be created, challenged, remodeled. So of the arts tend to go for the shock value. But I’d like to see us talk more about the effect of art on change.
Lisa Hickey: More stories on the transformative nature of art would be great.
Vince Isner: There’s a lecture by Michael Lewis that asks the question “why do we perceive the arts so differently from other cultures?” In the US, we perceive the arts in a verbal context. Back in the days of the Puritans, the main point of art was a moral one. So even today, we tend to look at arts through a moral lens. Other cultures see art simply as an experience—the colors, shapes, composition. I’m always having to explain that my art is simply a visual statement.
Steve Harper: It’s an interesting paradox. I’m an artist too, and I appreciate hearing about the transformative nature of art. But what I struggle with in discussions of art is—it really is all subjective. Everyone comes out with something different. News, because it is more objective, is easier to dissect. War, transgender, politics involve a large group of people who take sides, but at least they know which sides are there for the taking. Art is so incredibly nuanced all the time–It’s harder to have a conversation ‘about’ art.
Vince Isner: I’m from the Tennessee Bible Belt, and from where I am, art has a very narrow street to walk. A teacher in the school in our town took her class on a field trip. And they had to walk through a room where there were nude paintings. She took one look at the room with the nudes and said “field trip is over”. She felt she had to protect the children from the art. The moral attachment were in her own head. I find that challenging—I thought it could have been a real opportunity for her to talk to the class. I’ll also note that music is an art form that has a tremendous power for children.
Cynthia Barnett: I can see the fear about what art can do for us or two us. Parents will always protest. But in this case, the teacher might have been fearful of losing her job. Jobs have been lost for less.
I’d like to give two examples of my experience with transformative art. When I was growing up, the play “Raisin in the Sun” had such power for teaching why we had to get over racism, and it was an equally powerful story about manhood. It’s a great example of where art has power to make us better. More recently, there is “Go Set a Watchman”. Whether you think it should be read or not, we really don’t want to lose our sense of Atticus Finch as a strong male role model who had the courage to fight for justice.
And finally I’ll finish with a quote. “music is the purest of all arts”. Music doesn’t usually invite us to be scandalous.
Jerry Waxler: Interestingly enough, the Bible Belt has always had restrictions on children not being allowed to dance or listen to rock and roll music. So for some people, music is not so neutral. But all of this hype about moral outrage is a complete distraction that has never guided society toward higher moral ground. The outrage is simply something to keep the mob engaged in lower brain thinking. But it doesn’t solve anything.
Take for example the big brouhaha about banning Henry Miller books when I was a kid. The outrage was about his sexual liberation. The fear was that he was going to destroy the morals of our children. Even though we eventually said “let it be seen” we did nothing to change the root cause of the problem.
The next step in our evolution is to step away from moral outrage and instead focus our energy on helping each other grow.
Lisa Hickey: This conversation is reminding me that it is also difficult to separate out the morals of the artists from the morals of the art itself. Think about the debate about whether you should even look at the art if it is by someone who has been accused of wrongdoing—Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Michael Jackson come to mind.
Wilson Jordan: That is a question: Should we separate the art from the person. And what happens when they say one thing but do another. As a parent we say, “Do as I say, not as I do”. If I cannot do what I say—I have no integrity.
I’d like to talk about how racism is coming to the forefront of the conversation. I’d like to preface my statements by saying that I am not seeking to be politically correct for its own sake, but nor am I seeking to inflame. But race and racism is a white issue. It’s not an issue of people of color even though we are affected by it every day. But white people have lived in a bubble for so long they have not been forced to address the issues of race. It’s always been safer for them not to talk about the issues. But the issues are not going to go away. They are not going to be eclipsed by gay rights. Race is an issue that has to be brought into the dining room, the bedroom, the board room and sports centers. It’s an issue that needs to be talked about without guilt.
I’d like to ask a question of this group. When, as a white person, did you become aware that you were white?
What did that awareness mean or not mean?
Chris Shneck: I teach inner-city school in Atlanta. And I didn’t realize what it mean to be white until I walked into that classroom for the first time.
Dixie Gillaspie: I’d like to add to that question—when did you become aware that it made a difference? When I was a child, I had a black baby doll called Lily. (I didn’t understand irony back then). My dad told me I couldn’t bring the doll when we were going to Mobile, Alabama and that made no sense to me. But even then I didn’t understand that color made a difference, whether you were black or white. That made no sense to me either. When did you become aware of other peoples ideas around color and how it would affect you and the world you lived in?
Jerry Waxler: In the 60’s, we thought the Civil Rights Movement was going to go in only one direction and maybe even keep gaining ground exponentially. There wasn’t a particular time that I knew I was white, but the news about blacks being routinely harassed makes me increasingly aware of my advantage.
Instead of moving toward solutions and harmony we have moved in a different direction. Now billionaires feel they are entitled to run the country because they are rich. And voters are letting them, partly motivated by the hope that the billionaires will protect whites. I don’t know where things got so off track. I find myself reading about Sandra Bland and going straight to a place of discouragement.
Wilson Jordan: Please don’t go into a place of discouragement, because that brings hopelessness. This has all been a tough issue for people of color for hundreds of years. What policemen are doing is what they have been doing for the past 100 years. But a hundred years ago, it wasn’t brought into our living rooms. So what is new is that you and I can see it happening with our own eyes. Before this, you did not need to choose to confront your identity of what being white means. And guilt and discouragement will lead right to a place of shame of not being able to speak up. The pain that comes from realizing, “you are not one of us, you are one of them.”
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