’We’ve been here for three days now, and it just struck me while sitting at lunch listening to the conversations around me, that I’ve heard quite a few stories about the struggles and challenges of being a man. But at the same time I haven’t heard anyone at all blaming or talking badly about women. I say let’s keep up that trend!’
The man’s words are met with a resounding ‘Aho!’ from the other 150 men in the circle. They clearly resonate. I don’t know who he is, but they resonate with me, too. It seems to me that he’s right about his observation. But more than anything, I feel the truth of his passionate proposal. Yes, why should we talk badly about women?
I don’t know if I had actually expected anyone to do so. It’s the European Men’s Gathering 2018. My first. A few years ago I’d have been really surprised to see myself here. In the company of so many men, and not a single woman to be found. But right now the most surprising thing is that I don’t really miss the women. I find in the men here what I usually seek in women. Emotional depth. A space which allows for vulnerability. Something which I thought that I, unique among men, was good at, and could only share with women and a few, select other men. But these men seem to be even better at it than me. Which is actually kind of scary. For what am I hiding?
Looking at the other men, I realize that I’m not being entirely truthful. I do find the vulnerability challenging. Not least because I can’t help comparing myself to them. In all sorts of ways. When we sit in small circles and share our stories, I hesitate. What will these men think of my challenges? Will they even consider them to be challenges at all? The things I struggle with are probably piece of cake for them. And the feedback I give to their sharings probably doesn’t measure up, either.
Do I feel this way towards all men? How ironic that even practicing vulnerability with other men has to come with the desire to be the best, along with the shameful taste of coming up short.
But perhaps that’s inevitable, and maybe even a good thing. In the circles, I get challenged by the others to share what’s just beyond my comfort zone. It’s hard to get away with bullshitting and playing it safe. And surely, challenging wouldn’t work if it didn’t call out to the competitive part in me, the part which wants me to do my best even when it’s risky. Not that sharing should be a competition in itself. But with the challenge to go to the edge, sharing gets me to reveal things I otherwise wouldn’t, and this way realize new things about myself. And there’s no winning or losing. I’m met with support no matter what I say. Going to the edge with other men, I gradually learn to be transparent about my insecurities and inadequacies with them, just as I learn to appreciate the honest feedback that they give me.
Afterwards, we could of course spend our lunch talking about women and all their peculiarities and shortcomings. But somehow, after practicing openness and honesty, that just doesn’t seem like a very interesting thing to do. Rather, sharing begets more sharing and more authentic communication.
Now I am gearing up to join the EMG again this year to learn more. The theme is fatherhood. I hope for new themes to discuss and new depths to reach. See you there?