We men have been hard-wired since boyhood to pursue money, power, status, and fame with laser focus. Not only do these preoccupations define us, they frame our relationships with each other. We spend endless hours assessing how we measure up against other men and whatever set of metrics that we choose to perform against. While we would like to believe we can detach from these fixations, few of us can. One way or another, they become a lens through which we perceive our world.
We have been trained to deploy whatever competitive, cutthroat behaviors are necessary to succeed, with emotional detachment. While we may pay lip service to team building and collaborative power, we still attack the world as a personal arms race, justifying our actions as necessary to provide for our families, our partners, our loved ones. We prize aggression even in our entertainment, and tend to value connections as a strategy for gaining the advantage.
That’s why I believe Ross Douthat’s Op-Ed in the New York Times did not go far enough in providing a clear road map for going forward. Men must go further than “adapting the older archetypes to an era of greater equality between the sexes [. . .]” We must completely rewrite our operating code to include expanded models of success and contentment if we are going to fix the mess that we’ve created.
The problem with our hyper-aggressive behaviors is that while they may make us successful, they can do us as much harm as good, as recently reported by the American Psychological Association.
By contrast, traditional social constructs defining women focus on the “feminine” operating system that prizes networks and a level of receptivity that most men cannot decode. This way of being and knowing is an energy field that is a force to be reckoned with, and equal in achieving results to the male MO. The feminine mind understands the benefit of inclusion, diversity, empathy, interconnectedness, and openness, in ways that men may never know. It offers an “update” to the defaults in the male operating system. It suggests that there are other elements to success that we should value, like healthy relationships and the common good.
Fortuitously, there is a deep hunger for change among many men today, an innate dissatisfaction with the status quo and its winner-take-all outcomes. We are restless to our core. We want something else, something more.
We see glimmers of a new way of being in every generation of men. Regardless of our age, we men have begun to express a keen desire to connect with a sense of higher purpose and some plan to make the world a better place. Boomers are pursuing capstone careers. Gen-Xers have been the heroes in the War on Terror, and are damn good “stealth fighter” parents. Millennials have chosen a sense of purpose as their true north. Gen Z is simply taking for granted that they will organize their lives around something larger than themselves.
Also emerging—along with this desire for a higher calling—is an urgent, collective, psychological need to better understand and manage our relationship to the world, each other, and the cosmos. This desire is not being expressed as devotion to a particular faith or religion. Indeed, according to the Pew Research Center, fewer and fewer of us believe in God. But there is a growing willingness to experiment with multiple, traditional practices, in order to construct a personal belief system that might penetrate the mystery of life.
Although this shift in focus is vague and somewhat tentative for many of us, it is apparent in the increasing number of men’s retreats being organized. Millennial men are especially eager to connect and regroup immediately as they roll into parenting. Doing so empowers them to update old models of masculinity, reframe the dialogue between men and women, and do a better job of raising young men.
I think this explosion in men’s retreats is a good sign, as I am increasingly convinced that men are going to need to rebuild our operating systems from the ground up. Unlike prior men’s groups that focused on restoring old archetypes, new men’s groups insist on redefining a range of models. To that end, there is a growing sense that men must rediscover our innate feminine energy—the yin to balance out our yang. This will require an element of trust, intuition, and faith that defy men’s cause-and-effect, zero-sum-game mindset.
Remaining in an open, vulnerable space is especially hard for men, even those of us who have renounced the power-aggression paradigm in order to follow our bliss. The problem is that we set off on such a quest carrying our laser focus and egocentric baggage with us, compromising our ability to receive the guidance that we need. Monasteries around the globe are filled with guys who are working on releasing their ego-driven desires; it’s a very tall order.
So how does today’s man develop an open body-mind-soul?
My own recent steps down this path have been a challenge, but perhaps they offer a glimpse of the work that is required:
- Learning to be still;
- Working hard with my wife to unlearn my own toxic masculine behavior and model new behaviors for our two boys;
- Taking up a daily yoga/meditation/prayer practice where the yin can take root;
- Reading from wisdom traditions that speak to me;
- Learning to be, not do;
- Spending some time every day outdoors, enjoying life, with no objective in mind;
- Trying to feel the infinite blank screen of the eternal present.
If men are successful in learning how to be strong and tenacious, while remaining open and receptive, a true collaboration between men and women in reframing the dance between the genders is possible to our enduring benefit. That’s my hope for this year and beyond. May we all discover and honor “The Yin Within”.
What’s Next? Talk with others. Take action.
We are proud of our SOCIAL INTEREST GROUPS—WEEKLY PHONE CALLS to discuss, gain insights, build communities— and help solve some of the most difficult challenges the world has today. Calls are for Members Only (although you can join the first call for free). Not yet a member of The Good Men Project? Join below!
All levels get to view The Good Men Project site AD-FREE. The $50 Platinum Level is an ALL-ACCESS PASS—join as many groups and classes as you want for the entire year. The $25 Gold Level gives you access to any ONE Social Interest Group and ONE Class–and other benefits listed below the form. Or…for $12, join as a Bronze Member and support our mission, and have a great ad-free viewing experience.
Register New Account
Please note: If you are already a writer/contributor at The Good Men Project, log in here before registering. (Request new password if needed).
ANNUAL PLATINUM membership ($50 per year) includes:
1. AN ALL ACCESS PASS — Join ANY and ALL of our weekly calls, Social Interest Groups, classes, workshops and private Facebook groups. We have at least one group phone call or online class every day of the week.
2. See the website with no ads when logged in!
3. MEMBER commenting badge.
ANNUAL GOLD membership ($25 per year) includes all the benefits above — but only ONE Weekly Social Interest Group and ONE class.
ANNUAL BRONZE membership ($12 per year) is great if you are not ready to join the full conversation but want to support our mission anyway. You’ll still get a BRONZE commenting badge, and you can pop into any of our weekly Friday Calls with the Publisher when you have time. This is for people who believe—like we do—that this conversation about men and changing roles and goodness in the 21st century is one of the most important conversations you can have today.
We have pioneered the largest worldwide conversation about what it means to be a good man in the 21st century. Your support of our work is inspiring and invaluable.
Photo credit: Shutterstock, modified