1) You can’t do everything alone. Own that fact and don’t pose as a hero; this is just a mask.
My experience as a co-founder and facilitator of a men’s group project in Slovenia is that things can often become challenging. Being a participant and a facilitator at the same time is quite a task. Our men’s groups are based on vulnerable sharing and authentic feedback, which often leads to situations when it would be much easier to escape, become passive or avoid things altogether – especially in moments of emotional intensity. These can arise anytime, triggered by both the participants and/or the facilitator. In my experience, it is difficult for men to face their emotional pain, which is why it is essential to be there for one another. Everybody needs a safe environment to express oneself and feel accepted, so there is no need for heroes here.
2) A healthy community provides emotional security and a wider perspective.
A men’s group is a set of diverse male experiences and realizations from different stages and walks of life. We offer various examples to each other in terms of how we perceive the world around us, our relationships our own selves. The group always yields inspiration and, most importantly, common emotional challenges we can address. As a facilitator, I have noticed that men are mostly nice, kind and considerate to each other at the start. However, there comes a point when they begin to share things they really see and feel. With the Mr. Nice Guy front dropping, a lot of fear, sadness and anger can surface. When one can share one’s feelings openly without searching for approval, this is very powerful both for a participant and the facilitator. It is an important step from victim mentality (looking for excuses and approval) to leadership mentality (being able and willing to do something).
3) A man grows with challenges.
In men’s groups, we set challenges that support personal development. In my experience, people tend to impose too strong or complex challenges upon themselves to complete in too short periods of time. Change does not come overnight. On the other hand, one can also set very low ‘penalties’ for oneself on the path of change in order to avoid a challenge altogether. There was a moment when I didn’t complete my own challenge as a facilitator and the group confronted me with that fact. Healthy, authentic feelings of shame were very valuable to me, making me realize that I was looking for excuses instead of acknowledging that I had taken on a challenge that proved too much for me at that point. The aim of the group is to reflect and give feedback; as an individual, we are often unable to identify behaviors that don’t support us anymore, but are confronted with them as they surface in the group dynamic.
4) We are not omniscient. Let’s listen to each other.
We do not know everything, but still try to act smart in order to be perceived as know-it-alls. We lead different lives and sharing of our life experiences is invaluable, especially those most hidden, vulnerable and consequently most uncomfortable to talk about. Let me share some thoughts of one of the participants, who kindly gave me his permission to do so:
There was no exact time for me to become a man. I still have moments of feeling that I’m not a man proper and that the people around me can notice it. The first step I perceive on my transition into manhood is my moving to a student dorm. The second one was when I first said no to my father when he offered me money. The third was the birth of my son. The fourth was when I made my own set of tools. When I feel and perceive myself as a man, others can as well. But when my childhood emotional wounds arise and I seek approval from others (also my father and mother), I do not feel as a man.
Authentic sharing of life experiences connects and creates space to open up and be vulnerable but safe in terms of who one is and how one truly feels. Regardless of our diversity, we all have something to share. Ultimately, none of us is special; we are all people looking to share their stories, voices and feelings – and that is what really counts.