Boy this article/post has taken a long time to come together - too long. I’m not sure why. I could probably blame writers procrastination, that blank white screen or sheet of paper that is just sitting there taunting you to dare to fill it with words. Perfection has probably also played a part…”gotta get this right,” and then I over think what I wanted to say (as is my introvert tendency). And really all that I have wanted to do is to touch base with you about is how the Gentle Men Discussion went which I hosted a few weeks back (actually just over a month ago), and which was the subject of my last blog post.
My aim in hosting the talk was to hear from men who did not identify with the dominant macho image of being a man. This might be because they were Introverts, Highly Sensitive People (HSP), or that they didn’t identify with any label but felt that they simply didn’t fit in. I wanted to bring men together and join me around a virtual table to talk about what might normally be unsaid in their lives. As has been said elsewhere, men have sat in circles for centuries, meeting to talk and share stories. That was my wish here. To create a circle of men exploring what it means to be a man in the world today.
Specifically I wanted to start a dialogue with men who have a gentler way of being, and to learn more of what their struggles and successes are. What it means to be such a man today in our modern society? How they have coped and what is still a struggle for them? I feel the time is ready for a new story of what it means to be in a man in the world today. A more open and inclusive story.
My interest in holding such a dialogue was initially triggered when I wrote a piece asking where all the male introverts were? Since the huge success of Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking the online world has lit up with dialogue about being an introvert in society, I would say especially in the western world where the extrovert way of being is more celebrated and seen as the way to be. However, a great majority of this online dialogue is by women, I am going to guess at 90%+ . There is some superb content out there. It has inspired and helped me in owning and living with my introversion. But at the same time there is a part of the dialogue missing - what does it mean to be a quiet and sensitive man living in an extroverted world? And what is missing especially about that dialogue is it taking place between men. Even the replies that I received for the blog post I mentioned above were all from women.
If I was asked to offer a diagnosis as to the cause of this silence from men, I would speak to societal pressure. I see, experience, a message coming from society that says, “you have to act this way if you are a man and wish to be seen as a man. Any other way of being means that you are lacking in some way as a man.” If men show up in ways that are regarded as un-masculine, they can be spoken down to in disparaging terms (some of which are implicitly derogatory towards women) such as - “you are a wuss, or pussy.” The pressure of their natural way of being eats into how these men show up at work, with their families, at play, in the online world….and with themselves.
The conversation with men
So returning to the dialogue that I held with men at the end of February. Seven of us sat in a circle that spanned 10 hours in time zones. We set some ground rules in order to create a safe space for sharing, I had a few questions ready to prompt conversation if it waned, and then we sat down for 1.5 hours discussing a number of subjects:
- At what stage growing up did individuals noticed that they were different from their peers in some way?
- In what way were they different, and how did they cope with that difference?
- What coping strategies did or do they adopt?
- The role of shame in how they showed up in the world and in some cases destructive patterns of behaviour that that invoked.
- Exploring the stories that we live by and owning _our own stories,_ i.e. owning and being who we are as individual men, and how easy or difficult that can be.
Probably the most powerful part of the dialogue for me was simply hearing the experiences from real men. For the most part thus far my experience of others’ experience of what it means to be a quiet and sensitive man has come from articles or books that I have read. I speak about my work with introverts, and the subject sparks interesting conversation, but delving deeper into what it means to be a quiet and sensitive man has not really happened. So while these stories that I read are true, they are still words on paper. I feel their power and resonate with the words shared, but there is a distance. Hearing the stories from men sitting in front of me, men who did not know each other an hour ago but are now willing to lean into their vulnerability and share their stories with strangers, I found very powerful. I was not thinking about my own experiences. I was not reading articles - like this one! :) - I was hearing the lived experiences of men who had lived the experience of feeling different as they grew up.
The next dialogue
Following the success of this meeting, I am planning another dialogue. Some men have already expressed an interest in joining, but it looks as though there will be space if other men are interest. No date set yet, but it will probably be about a month out. If you are interested, reach out to me via email and I’ll include you in the email list for information.