For thousands of years, men have sat in a circle together for comradeship, support, counsel, and to plan. Often these circles were ceremonial and included shamanic blessings, ritual purification, and the application of markings of various kinds, from paint to tattoos to scarring. It was in these circles that men decided which of the tribe’s boys was ready for initiation into manhood, and when boys were initiated, it was to these circles that they returned to be welcomed into the brotherhood of men.
In the modern world of the West, these circles have been lost or attenuated to the point where they have largely become distorted or meaningless. Initiation today is associated with gangs, where it can be psychologically, emotionally, and physically destructive, or college fraternities where it is generally trivialized to mean drinking, eating distasteful foods, and being paddled – all gross distortions of what were once sacred rituals.
As boys, we had circles in which to sit—Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, sports teams—but often these were not exclusively male, and their focus was on doing things rather than being together, and as we grew to manhood, whatever male bonding we could find tended to be around drinking, sex, cars—again all about doing.
In the wake of the modern movement for gender equality, dating from about the 1960’s, men began to notice that something was missing for them. As women grouped and bonded, men often felt left out in the cold and, belatedly, men’s gatherings began to form. The Mankind Project (MKP) began in the late 1980’s when psychologist Bill Kauth began experimenting with groups of men. Soon Kauth and two other men, Rich Tosi and Ron Hering, formed MKP which has grown into a worldwide movement of almost 60,000 men.
These men did the basic program of MKP, called the New Warrior Training Adventure, an initiatory experienced that draw heavily from Robert Bly and from Joseph Campbell’s description of the Hero’s Journey. It became clear early in the history of MKP that the initiation was just that—a beginning—and men began to form self-managed groups to continue the work they began on the weekend. These groups, called Integration Groups or I Groups, provide an ongoing opportunity for men to sit in ritual space with other men and to do their work.
It’s that last piece—men’s work—that distinguishes gatherings of men from the superficial male bonding of alcohol, sex, cars, and sports. Men’s work is to go within and to free ourselves from outdated and oppressive norms of “masculinity.” It’s waking up our emotional intelligence and being accountable for the impact, whether intentional or not, of our unconscious biases and unearned privilege. And for most men, it’s discovering that we are not alone—that all of us carry shame we never created and guilt for things we never did. That all of us are wounded, and we’ve become inauthentic to compensate for our wounds.
There is magic in circles of men—the magic of men healing themselves and each other, and of healing the world, one man at a time.
Ed Gurowitz’s work is to engage men in creating partnerships between diverse groups – men and women, straight and GBTQ men, men of color and “white” men – to produce synergies that will change the world. He is active in Mankind Project and is a partner in Gender Leadership Group.
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