Monday, September 9, 2013
Perhaps I will begin to sound redundant but I am going to focus yet again today on the theme of masculinity and manhood. It’s fitting in a sense that I do so considering I am preparing to depart tomorrow for the 29th annual Minnesota Men’s Conference. I am hoping to make some good connections and find some respite from what lately feels like a constant barrage of challenges. I am feeling quite sad today and I feel very strongly that I have good reason to feel this way.
I have decided to end my participation in a local chorus I originally joined in January of this year. My decision was not an easy one. I am the type of person who firmly believes in keeping commitments I have made once I have made them. My overarching concern that has prompted my departure from this organization is the lack of healthy leadership I see reflected in numerous unfortunate experiences I have had in the short time I was a member of the organization. An email I received last night from the membership vice president gave me that final necessary push to choose as I have. I do not see many people in the organization who offer a quality I find so vital. That quality is compassion. And I see my experience in this organization as symptomatic of a larger issue here in America. Men as a whole do not have very good skills to be present to their own pain or that of others.
With all the discourse regarding budget deficits at local, state and the federal government level one can hear in recent years you might think such discourse is reflective of a healthy debate regarding how we allocate resources to serve the basic needs of society. And while some of the discourse I have seen does indeed seem to show healthy reflection and discernment all too often I can simultaneously find much that does not. And then there is the related matter of what other pressing issues are not receiving sufficient attention whatsoever. Beyond fiscal deficits we are beset by a major compassion deficit. And it is this compassion deficit, which is inextricably linked to this endemic inability of men to be present to the pain and suffering they feel and that they witness in others.
I actually took a course on compassion while a student of Naropa University in Oakland, California. To my knowledge there are not many institutions of higher education that would offer such a course. I met some significant mentors of my life while attending Naropa University. One of those is Matthew Fox. Fox has known the journey of the outcast as a consequence of his steadfast determination to bring to life a more holistic and liberating spirituality known as creation spirituality. Creation spirituality acknowledges the power and generative potential of our darkest human moments both personal and collective. There is wisdom to be found in welcoming those most painful and raw emotions. There is healing to be found in admitting to our deepest feelings of alienation and isolation. A life lived without a healthy relationship to the universal experience of suffering is a stunted life.
Stunted is indeed an apt word to describe how I experience the prevailing American conception of masculinity. It is a distorted masculinity that offers little open space for qualities all too often rendered as the sole province of the feminine. And compassion is certainly high on the list of qualities whose cultivation I believe should be a priority in any human life. A life devoid of compassion is a life whose potential fullness is never realized.
I feel an incredible amount of grief that my search for authentic men and community continues to be so arduous and dissatisfying. But at least I am searching. And at least I will not give up on my search. I may be disappointed many a time but the surest way to never experience that which you desire is to never try at all.
On a related note I must comment on the irony I sense in the confluence of events taking place this week. Our Congress is scheduled to be back in session today. They will be confronted with the President’s request for authorization to respond to the ongoing conflict in Syria. This morning, as I was preparing to journey to see my therapist, I stopped downtown. I saw a sign encouraging people to give blood in honor of the events of September 11, 2001. I am not opposed to giving blood to helping those in need. Yet I think we could honor the tragic events of that day of twelve years ago by not allowing our government to make yet another tragic mistake by choosing a policy response in Syria that will ultimately produce some very grave consequences. Answering the aggression within Syria with a military response (when to my knowledge Syria has made no threatening overtures towards the United States) does not strike me as fruitful. Instead I sense it is a sure way to find our nation once again on a road to oblivion.
I am grateful not only that I will be attending the Minnesota Men’s Conference but that I will be away starting tomorrow. I do not have the stomach to hear the endless acknowledgments of September 11th. I believe there is a more peaceful way so many of us could live. And I am committed to finding it.