Men can support each other to work through adversity with intensity, focus and solutions
On our men’s team, at the start of each meeting, we play ultimate Frisbee or full-court basketball for 30 to 40 minutes. This intense physical exercise gives us the opportunity for each of us to give our best efforts, no matter how well we’re playing. This helps us develop self-respect and respect for our opponents. We have an expression we say before the game, “Get your energy out but don’t take another man out.”
The goal is to play hard without hurting ourselves or others. We value Valor over victory.
Of course everybody wants to win. But win or lose, by the end of the game, we respectfully challenge each other to see if we really performed at our peak – both physically and mentally. We point out to each other, as constructive criticism, where each of us could’ve done better. The goal is to have each man practice Accepting all sides of himself – where he gave his ‘all’ and how he gave up.
The Playing Field of Life
We use the playing field as a place to practice how, as men, we need to behave in life. When we match up against opponents who are better than us, we’re forced to give our best and to focus on our effort, not just the results. On the complex playing field that is life – dealing with things socially, professionally, spiritually – we, as men, have to learn to separate the effort from the result. We have to learn how to commit to participating fully, even when we may not be getting the outcome that we want.
Men don’t do well when they let themselves – and others – down. They take it really hard when they can’t live up to their own expectations and the expectations of others. When they don’t perform well, they tend to isolate themselves. They certainly don’t want to talk about it most of the time. While this tactic may be fine for the very short term, it is destructive in the middle and long term.
Important Note to Women
When your son or husband is down on himself, do your best to wait a few hours or days before you Nurture him. Most of the time, his male hormones (testosterone, vasopressin and Mueller Inhibiting Substance), actually prevent him from feeling your heartfelt effort to support him. Until that time, just be your usual loving, supportive self, without acting on your biological urge to “make everything right.”
Dealing with Failure
At a recent meeting, one of the men didn’t make a play on what would have been a touchdown. He immediately started yelling at himself to do better. When another man tried to console him, he became more agitated, because he really wanted to be left alone. This resulted in a loud argument. The man who botched the play ended up walking off the field, disgusted.
The rest of the men carried on, playing the game without further distraction. We knew that the angry man was not ready to come back and play. We knew the young men on the team were carefully watching how the adult men would handle this.
After the game, as is customary, we performed our post-game ritual. We “circle up”, arm in arm, while huffing and puffing. We quickly check in about what our play experience was like. The most common, joyful check-in occurs when a man says that the competition and fun helped him to focus on the “here and now.” In this rare mental and physical condition, we share how we feel a tangible sense of freedom and joy – unconcerned with the responsibilities of money, relationships or work.
In this particular circle-up, when it was time for the angry man to check in, he looked away from us and refused to say anything. Combining the virtues of Courage and Courtesy, the team challenged him, by asking, “Where else in your life is this behavior showing up?” This is one of the respectful questions we frequently use with each other. We wanted to help the man see that his display of anger or frustration may be one symptom of a deeper underlying problem.
How the Elder Men Supported a Younger Man
Sure enough, the man revealed that he was going through a tough time, both in his romantic relationship and in trying to keep a job that he really needs. He owned the fact that he’s been much too lazy. When he was done revealing his sadness about his inability to perform better in his personal and professional life, he was more relaxed. The rest of the team was loving and firm, letting him know that he can have his feelings of inadequacy AND continue giving his best efforts, moment to moment.
Because this man is in his mid-twenties, the older adult men were clear with him that we have to continue to move ourselves through times when we’re unmotivated. We reminded him that we’re not his parents and we can’t baby sit for him – nor should his biological parents.
The men on the team do not sugarcoat the difficulties of life in this conditional and chaotic planet. We frequently discuss how important it is for men to honor both the virtue of Vulnerability (the ability to openly expose weaknesses and emotional wounds) AND their biological virtue of Invincibility (the ability to activate primal instincts and strengths).
How the Young Man Handled his Anger
For thousands of years, humans have often had to quickly adapt to the adversities of their lives, as well as those of their clan. Men had to grieve quickly and deeply, then get back to their tasks of providing and protecting for their family and community. We use the same concept and process in our men’s team.
By the end of the meeting, the angry man was much more composed as he engaged with the men. At our final circle-up of the meeting, we all knew he was ready to start the day fresh. He knew that we would hold him accountable at the next meeting by asking about his progress. And that was okay with him.
As for the young men on the team, they saw that we did TWO things: We never nagged the adult man AND we never let him off the hook.
They experienced a direct confrontation between males where the virtues of Respect (to hold in a high regard) and Accountability (to own what you did or didn’t do) were the focus of attention. There were no accusations, just questions and answers directed towards moving a man’s life in the right direction.
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Photo by Flickr/BillHarrison