We Have to Talk About It
Calling on Men to Talk about Male Violence
I’m writing this the day after the latest school shooting in Uvalde, TX. I've felt sick and angry all day. Part of me feels hopeless and confused, too, and I imagine shaking my fist at the sky with a demand to know WHY?
But we know why, don't we?
Have you noticed how many of these mass shootings start with the perpetrator killing a female family member before going on his rampage. One of the first and most notorious mass shooters, the University of Texas Tower sniper, started by killing his wife and mother. The Uvalde killer started by shooting his grandmother in the face.
We have to talk about the male supremacy that some men feel compelled to enforce with violence.
And of course almost all mass shooters are men. Out of 128 mass shootings in the U.S., 123 were carried out by men.
We have to talk about male violence and how it is embedded in most versions of masculinity.
We have to acknowledge there is a culture of misogyny, lone wolf masculinity, and gun worship in this country that leads to these spasms of hate-filled murder. Add in racism and white supremacy and a studied lack of compassion or community and the bullets fly.
I'm not making much sense this morning...sigh. I'm just trying to be a man, calling out male violence and the culture we all participate in. I am filled with grief.
I am so relieved that I have brothers like @Graham_Goulden, @ErikBecker42, @RemakingManhood, @BranchSpeaks, @boysenh, @FinntasticMrFox and @VernonAE who are working on remaking manhood and redefining strength all over the world... otherwise, I would despair
And, while I hear some making a really valid case for "raising our boys differently" let's be honest... we have to change ourselves and each other; no amount of careful parenting, mentoring, or teaching is going to counter the culture of violent expression, emotional repression, and enforced isolation that surrounds boys.
We men first have to build awareness of how most of our versions of masculinity are rife (or at least infused) with dominance, oppression, and glorification of contest and combat. Let’s admit that even the most peace-loving man among us struggles with the urge to dominate, dismiss or dehumanize the other. If we peaceful, feminist men deny our darker side, we only repress it, rather than heal it.
We men also need to seek out each other to help build a community of support for altering our expressions of masculinity to reveal all the capacity we have for closeness, cooperation, inclusion, and healthy emotional expression. Join a men’s group. Get transformational coaching. Seek therapy. Ask for help from Spirit, God, or Nature.
And we men need to start taking concrete action alongside
@MomsDemand, @GabbyGiffords and others to make it clear that we oppose violence and that men can be and feel strong without violence, without weapons of war.
We can be men who demonstrate the absolute power of fierce nurturing, active community building, bold vulnerability, intense play, deep grief, soaring joy, sparkling curiosity, and a fire for life everywhere. We can. Let's do this.
Resources for Men fighting violence
Support affected communities
It’s really not about me, is it?
So... uh, yeah. My book, Leadership and Masculinity - Embracing New Strength, broke into the Top Ten in Men's Health in less than 24 hours. It also holds some #1 and #2 spots in HR & Personal Management in the UK and Canada.
The last three days have been the most unbelievable hours since Kelly said "Yes" to my marriage proposal eight years ago. I feel giddy, confused, proud, a little resistant, and scared. And so, so grateful for all the support and interest.
I notice my underlying personal disbelief (Imposter Syndrome, anyone?) and am humble enough to dismiss it. This project is suddenly bigger than my fleeting feelings or self-protective patterns. Hundreds- if not thousands - of people are part of this project now. People from all around the world are showing their support for healthy masculinity and more engaged, inclusive, sustainable leadership by pre-ordering the book, sharing the link with others, and cheering loudly on social media. It no longer matters whether I feel worthy or safe enough to release and promote this book… it already belongs to others.
The book never really belonged to me. I am not some wildly original auteur; my role was to curate and articulate a series of connections between the collaborative leadership I learned in the outdoor education world, the ethics of nonviolence and inclusion, the sense of possible liberation offered to men by feminism, and the person-centered organizational research from the last 30 years. The writing also carries with it the hopes and needs of the women, BiPOC, LGBTQI, and youth who I’ve worked with and learned from.
This humility doesn’t detract from my wild excitement to see this book read by thousands of people. I am 110% certain that this project brings value into this confused and fractured world. It paints a very clear picture for why so many men and so many leaders feel trapped, stuck, overwhelmed, and angry AND provides a set of simple (but not necessarily easy) steps for getting out of the old traps an onto a new path.
I envision a growing community of male leaders who embrace the New Strength of shared wins, shared power, shared spaces, and shared vulnerability. And I envision how they will work with female and nonbinary leaders to transform this world into one that is safer, more just, and more sustainable for everyone! Let's do this.
Call to Action
If you want to be a part of this movement while keeping the book high in the rankings (so more people see and read it) do a quick pre-order today. It’s only 99 cents until May 2nd. https://amzn.to/3khIirx
If you’re not convinced yet that you want to be a part of this project to support transformative leaders, go ahead and download a free chapter and see if it resonates with you. https://info.charlesmatheus.com/leadership
How to Redesign Leadership w/New Strength
The old, outmoded understanding of strength depends on exerting power over people in a zero-sum game of dominance contests, oppression, and exclusion. This kind of "strength" is all too familiar. You’ve probably worked in teams led by insecure bullies, aloof neglectful supervisors, or witnessed mysterious decisions being made by members of the old-boys-club. Or perhaps you notice yourself relying on it when you're stressed out or insecure.
This “old strength” leadership creates dependency or resentment instead of empowerment and it stifles creativity. Organizations led this way are too rigid to pivot when conditions change, and too hierarchical and guarded to develop a new generation of innovative leaders. Old strength leadership dooms individual leaders, their organizations, and, ultimately, the culture. Unfortunately, this old leadership mode prevails when individuals haven’t done the inner work to replace it or when outdated structures prevent new modes of thinking and sharing power.
Years ago, I was promoted to a top leadership position for which I was just barely qualified for. The combination of my drive to do well and my fear of failure caused me to drop everything I knew about collaborative, servant leadership. I became demanding, rigid and aloof. I was a drill sergeant when I should have been a mentor. I was so afraid of judgement from above and the tenuousness of my position that I fought with my direct-reports over capitalization standards in their weekly reports. This top-down approach sabotaged my relationships with my team and their performance plummeted. Instead of investigating my role in the dysfunction, I doubled down on my power-over, oppressive leadership and while feeling more and more frustrated, lonely, and scared.
I came close to ruining the organization and my career.
Fortunately, my board believed enough in my potential to call me to the carpet and get me some executive coaching.
I could have chosen a performance-oriented coach who could have given me some tips and exercises for better collaboration and listening. Indeed, I offer some similar tips at the end of this post. But I knew my fall-back leadership habits were deeply rooted in unhealthy self-concept AND an outmoded understanding of what leadership actually IS. In order to really shift myself decisively from one leadership mode to another, I chose a coach skilled in deep, transformational techniques.
The work I did with my coach started off with an assignment to describe my leadership style. I was stymied. That fact that I could not even describe my style or explain what I was trying to do with my leadership was a strong indication that I was leading from an automatic, un-self-reflective place and therefore susceptible to all the ingrained but unhelpful cultural memes about Old Strength leadership.
As my coach and I continued, he introduced mindfulness meditation to help me shift out of fear and anxiety and into a more confident, conscious readiness for change. We then tackled the task of personal purpose definition. My coach had the good sense to make sure I approached this part of the work from a deeply personal perspective. Rather than just ask me what I thought my purpose was and to list my broad goals, he had me imagine my own death and funeral [gulp] and write down what I would like said about me at that memorial. After staring at a blank page for a handful of minutes, embarrassed at the prospect of eulogizing myself, I found the words pouring out of my pen. I discovered how much I cared about leaving a lasting, meaningful impact with my work. AND I realized how much that impact would depend on my relationships with people… not my ego, not my ideas, but my relationships.
This reflective inner work helped me understand that my worth as a human was not and is not tied to my place in a rigid hierarchy but to how much I’m able to lift other people up so that they feel powerful. I was now ready to move my frightened ego out of the way and into its proper place behind purpose, impact, relationships, and the greater good. With deep introspection and support, I discovered that beneath my fear of failure was a powerful passion for the organization and its work. That passion gave me the courage to ask my team (the same team I’d battered with unreasonable demands and unceasing control) for help to become a better leader. Over the next few years we thrived and succeeded together, tripling the impact of our programs while keeping the budget contained.
Here are my key learnings from my fall-back and recovery:
My personal story is not an exceptional one. Despite decades of organizational change research and cultural progress, old, outmoded, unhelpful, and unhealthy leadership styles and modes remain in our psyches and systems. You can see old strength ideas in quotes like:
Fortunately, even with the prevalence of old school leadership memes, practices, and expectations in our culture, it is possible to shift leadership modes and organizational culture toward those powered by New Strength. For individuals, deep, transformational work may be required. For organizations, a thorough audit of practices and procedures may have to take place.
Call to Action
Take the simple leadership assessment that Lisa Barnwell and I created. It will help you determine how much of your leadership style is unhelpful and how much is based on brave New Strength. At the end of the assessment, you’ll have access to some additional leadership resources.
In the meantime, Choose 2-3 of the following personal leadership actions to try on for size.
Also, if it is in your power, consider making some institutional changes like the one’s below.
You can take these actions to consciously push back against any unconscious or habitual use of old strength leadership. Try it out and let me know how it goes! I suspect you will find relief and relationships that sustain you and your mission.
Related Articles and Videos
Why Being a "Good Man" Isn't Enough
A theme of #internationalmensday this year is creating better relations between men and women at work. Sounds great, right?
My conversation this week, though, with a powerful, thoughtful colleague revealed a common block to positive gender relations. As we talked about how my work with men includes harassment prevention, he grimaced and said, "I've never gotten that whole thing. I've always treated women with respect. I just don't see it."
This is the big elephant in the room, isn't it? There is a great gulf between women's lived reality and men's _perceived_ reality. At least 38% of US women experience harassment at work and 95% of the time, the perpetrators go unpunished. Women know this. They live it, feel it, make personal and career decisions around this reality, and it affects their ability to rise, succeed, and lead.
Most men, though, are not perpetrators. Most men are not the target of harassment. Most men do not experience a hostile work environment. Our _perception_ is that everything is fine. And until we accept that our perception is not the whole reality, there will always be this gap in our relations with women at work. The perception gap will prevent men from being true allies and prevent women from feeling free and fully engaged at work.
This Men's Day, it's time for men to help other men widen their circle of understanding and perception to include women's experience. It will be uncomfortable... widening the circle includes taking in some painful new information. But if we want a really effective workplace and true equity, it's time to bridge the gap.
(And here's the secret, selfish reason to do the work... Men who are effective allies at work report more personal growth that helps them be better husbands, partners, and parents. Bonus.)
I invite men to follow social media accounts that talk about how men can make a difference. My go-to twitter follows in include:
I also invite you to join me on Clubhouse every Friday at noon EST to engage in a facilitated conversation with men who are practicing the courageous work of listening, speaking authentically, supporting each other and growing in to the best, most powerful versions of themselves.
Let's get this elephant out of the room and make room for a couch and a snack bar!
#workculturematters #mensmentalhealth #womenatwork
Build a Culture of Accountability Instead
Hear me out. It's time for men to help other men shift from guarded, defensiveness into full participation in a powerful culture of accountability. Victimhood and denial only serve to keep us weak and lonely.
Accountability on the other hand, calls forth our strengths around engagement, problem-solving, & exploration, all while we exercise empathy, listening, and ally-ship.
Men, when you get called out for sexism, bullying, homophobia, racism, etc., EVEN IF you're just being included in the group of perpetrators b/c you're a man, take a breath. Stay curious, present, patient, and caring. Know that you have power. Use it to listen.
Talk to other, trusted men already working with women, POC, LGBTQi folks, etc. Ask them for insight. (Don't take advice from men who are in victim mode or who blame women. Those men have traded their strong heart for false power & a "brotherhood" of lies & complaints.)
Build a culture of accountability inside and around yourself. Acknowledge your personal responsibility for your past actions as well as shared responsibility for actions done by other men. When we take ownership we can act and heal ourselves and others.
Acknowledge the grief and fear that comes up in you and others. Grief about the past... fear of the future. Don't deny or suppress those emotions in yourself. Find the strength to hold space for others as they feel fully. Grief frees us up to move forward.
Know that we are so much stronger on the other side of listening, learning, and grieving than we are stuck in denial and defense. Know that we are incredibly more powerful in open ally-ship than in sealed silos. Don't "go your own way!" We need you here!
How Men Can Help Each Other Heal
Hear me out: it's time for men to help other men survive & recover from the wounds that manbox culture imposes on us. What does that look like? In the Apple+ TV show, the character Roy Kent shows us that support can be fierce, strong, silent and powerful.
Man Box culture includes constant policing, judging, and condemning of men by other men. We get teased, bullied, harassed, and shamed out of our own authentic, flawed, loving humanity and into a rigid expression of dominance and repression.
(WARNING: Ted Lasso spoilers ahead.)
This week we saw how even a top dog, hyper-masculine bro like Jamie Tartt can get policed and shamed by an abusive dad. His father treats him to a barrage of put downs, some punctuated by the cover-lie, "Just jokin,' son."
Nothing new or surprising there. We've all faced joking abuse from friends, fathers, uncles, work mates, etc. "It's all in fun," but we are beginning to understand what that "fun" does to us. It decreases our free throw percentage, increases our BP, and shortens our lives.
Jamie is not a Sensitive New-age Guy. At the beginning of S1 he is an egoist, a bully, a shallow boyfriend, and a terrible team player. But that embrace of Man Box culture does not insulate him from or inure him to the pain his father heaps on him, in full view of his teammates.
Participating, even being successful in Man Box culture does not protect us men from it! Displaying dominance never stops other, more dominant men from attempting to put us down. Constant overt or covert degradation is baked into this performance of masculinity.
In the show, Jamie's father digs at him until Jamie reacts physically. His heretofore frozen coaches finally intervene and separate the two and evict the dad. But Jamie is left in the center of the room, bereft, a stunning model for how Man Box Culture hurts men.
So, how do we men help each other survive and recover? Roy Kent shows us a way. One of the most traditionally masculine men on the show, his stoic, profane performance of masculinity ALSO includes deep empathy & the strength to stand with the small & vulnerable. (c.f. his relationship with niece Phoebe)
After Jamie's dad is evicted, there is a beat of two of awkward, painful silence. Then, across the room, Roy moves his head slightly, like one just jerking awake. He realizes what's called for & strides powerfully over to Jamie and gathers him into a deep hug. He speaks no words. Roy does not attempt to comfort Jamie or explain the hurt away. He does not put down the father in order to lift Jamie up. He doesn't ask Jamie to speak or engage. He just holds him.
This is what we can do for each other - just be present for each other's pain.
And notice what happens to Roy, part way through the hug. At first, his embrace is "bro-approved" with closed fist on Jamie's spine. But a few seconds in, Roy discovers he has more capacity, more strength to share & his hand opens up to create MORE contact with Jamie.
This is how we help heal each other. Roy's hug gives Jamie a counter-narrative about his own worthiness & about how to be a man. Because the wounds of Man Box culture come mostly from other men, it is both strange & true that men are best situated to heal each other. It's time.
This is how we help heal each other. Roy's hug gives Jamie a counter-narrative about his own worthiness & about how to be a man. Because the wounds of Man Box culture come mostly from other men, it is both strange & true that men are best situated to heal each other. It's time.
I challenge every man to find ways to deepen your friendships by telling more truth, asking for more help, brave more vulnerability. Call out shallow or abusive behavior, even if it's "a joke." You deserve the connection, support, and healing. Like many men, you might actually find it easier to practice vulnerability and relational skills in a men's group that meets regularly, virtually or in person. Go to MankindProject.org , Sacred Sons, HuMen, or Mensgroup.com and find a group that's a fit for you.
Men can also join me and other mens work practitioners on Clubhouse every other Friday. Find us at the Remaking Manhood Club.
What Will Save the World?
Reflections on Our First Clubhouse Event for Men.
What will change the world? What will break the hold that patriarchy and greed have over our workplaces, institutions, families and relationships? What will reduce the violence in our families and relationships? What will stem the tide of male suicide, addiction, and early death?
I believe a significant part of the change will occur when men - in particular - find ways to step out of their conditioning and see what awaits them on the other side of the “Man Box.”
Yesterday, in the new Remaking Manhood room on Clubhouse, a dozen men and a handful of women co-created a space where we could step out of the stoicism, perfectionism, and brittle strength that "Manbox Culture" demands of us. A dozen men took the opportunity to speak openly about their grief, their joy, their desire to weep, to rage, even to giggle or be held.
In the space we created, each man heard other men tell similar stories, share similar emotions, and validate the truth and strength of each other's experiences and responses. This vulnerability was met, not with the derision, hostility, or shunning we experience or expect from the "normal" world, but with support, alignment, and inclusion. The women present, instead of recoiling from this "softness" actually told the men that they found this full expression attractive.
Yesterday, a dozen men stepped out of the conditioning that tells them to dominate, ignore, suppress, and repress. They found not defeat or humiliation, but acceptance, validation, and even acclimation. My hope is that the experience was like finding a door into a new, bigger, more lusciously furnished part of their house. They can, of course, stay in the old, cramped quarters. But now they know that there is another place to explore that is homey, abundant, and surprising. A way of being connected and powerful without demanding dominance or control.
What will change the world? A dozen men and a handful of women sharing their full humanity?
It's a start.
Integrating Emotions at Work
Workplace culture experts like Brene Brown and Simon Sinek make it clear that everyone is supposed to “bring their whole selves” to work. Anything less is dehumanizing for the person and, according to relatively new research, limiting people’s expression and wholeness actually hampers a team’s creativity, adaptability, and sustainability.
But whole people are messy and emotional. They have hidden histories and sometimes chaotic lives. How can you, as a leader, welcome your full, complete team members to work without getting sucked into drama, wasting time, or straying from the mission? Or worse, what if a whole person arrives at work in distress, and you do something wrong and cause more problems. You are not a trained counselor, how are you supposed to handle “whole people?”
The key is making sure you bring your full self to work and that you employ some simple “whole-person-friendly” procedures with your team.
I had the great honor of leading a small nonprofit organization serving local youth. We recruited 100’s of volunteer mentors and had a core administrative/program team of eight people. Our mission involved helping teen boys develop resilience and relationship-building skills so they could rise above their trauma and their life challenges. Of course, we had to ask those boys to bring their full selves to the program. Which meant that the adult volunteers had to be trained and supported so they could bring their full selves to those crucial interactions. That, of course, required that our core team be full, complete people in the workplace, as well. Anything else would have been a betrayal of the values we were teaching the boys.
The techniques and practices that we used at the nonprofit to support “full selves” are accessible and applicable in any team.
Want to build a strong team of complete individuals? Try adopting “check-ins” as a core practice. In our nonprofit team we started every meeting with a check-in, which is just a simple go-round where each individual states their name and what he/she/they is feeling at the moment. We held this “ritual” everytime we met with a cohort of teen clients or a gathering of volunteers, at the beginning of every staff meeting, and even at the start of a board meeting. This regular recurrence helped create and support an organization-wide culture of emotional literacy, vulnerability, safety, and support.
Some tips for using Check-ins
But what if a team member reports in a check-in a “difficult” emotion like anger or sadness?
Say “Thank you.”
Seriously… expressing simple gratitude is the best response. Saying “thank you” acknowledges your teammate makes several important points clear, all at once.
Resist the temptation to FRAP
FRAP stands for Fix, Rescue, Advise, or Project. It is 100% natural that we want to reach out and help someone who expresses sadness, anger, or anxiety. But FRAPing moves the focus of the person with the emotion, off their own resources, and onto the advice-giver or rescuer. When we trust each other enough to sit with challenging emotion, we actually all grow more capable.
It’s really OK to “just” sit there, in your full humanity, witnessing the other in their full humanity.
Consider If or How to Follow Up
As a team leader, you may want to follow up with your team member if they seem in distress. Resist the temptation to dig in during the check-in; let everyone check-in before shifting gears. Know that you have some options.
Call to Action
Ideally, after reading this post, you feel more confident about welcoming emotions and whole people into your team. Consider implementing check-ins with your core team as soon as possible.
A Deeper Dive:
What do leaders need to know about the difference between justice and accountability? What are the implications for teams and the workplace? How can taking accountability lead to more justice, engagement and success?
Take a walk with me and find out.
America still works
Yesterday, I volunteered for 9 hours at a vaccine clinic run by @SpectrumCares in the small city of Prescott Valley, AZ. Originally, I signed up to serve because of the promise of a vaccination. (I'm a Phase 2 vaccine candidate, and I wouldn't get my first dose until May.)
As my shift got closer, I got excited to be part of the effort to make my whole community safer. I started to think about how my grandparents and parents had served in wars and in their communities. I started feeling really grateful for the opportunity to take action...to do SOMETHING besides staying home and being nice to delivery people. It felt good to no longer be small and helpless in the face of tragedy.
What I discovered at the clinic, made me feel even better. The vaccine clinic was a model of cooperation, community, clarity, science, and hope.
It was a partnership: a nonprofit healthcare company, a for-profit business donating the site, the local & state government providing the doses, and the feds, through FEMA, coordinating volunteers. The presence of FEMA meant there were people there from all over the country, helping to protect our most vulnerable citizens. Young Black, Latinx FEMA workers called up from Louisiana, Virginia, even the Virgin Islands, here to take care of a bunch of old white people in a town famous for its racism.
During a lull, I had a chat with a Gen Z woman from Suffolk, VA, who just wants to be busy and feel useful. I joked that here we were injecting Bill Gates' chips into everyone. She'd never even heard of that conspiracy theory. That was really refreshing.
The clinic was very well organized. Patients never had to wait more than a minute or two. The computer software was friendly and glitch-free. The vaccine doses appeared on my table in small batches, and we administered them swiftly. Patients were grateful and appreciative. As soon as we vaccinated a patient, they were able to immediately schedule their second dose. All were pleasantly surprised.
It was a joy to interact with the mostly elderly patients; my community's elders. To keep them comfortable and positive as I readied the needle, I asked them what they were most looking forward once they were fully protected. Travel, grandchildren, graduations, and dining out with friends topped the list. Others spoke of their eagerness just to be free from fear and anxiety. All of my patients thanked me for my service. An 80-year-old Korean war vet thanked me for my service.
I didn't know we could still do this kind of thing in America.
After a year of feeling despair at the willful stupidity and ignorance of my neighbors & continuous gaslighting by elected leaders, this acknowledgement of reality and common humanity was a profound blessing.
All the patients marveled at the efficiency of the operation.
"The directions signs were so clear... I didn't expect that."
"You guys are so fast and friendly. I thought I'd be waiting in line for hours."
"I'm so relieved, I was worried I'd get here but be turned away."
One patient even said, "I didn't know we could still do this kind of thing in America."
I understand his surprise.
It turns out, despite the damage of the last 4 years, despite the anti-science, anti-community, toxic rhetoric, Americans can come together... at least for a little while... and work to solve a problem.
I know that yesterday was just a tiny point of light. (I can't believe I'm quoting H.W. Bush.) And, despite my joy and relief at being part of the solution, we must do more. We vaccinated 500 people yesterday. We could have doubled that if we'd had the doses.
But even 1000 vaccinations a day means our little, rural county won't be protected (80% immune) until August. That means Jose won't be able to go see his granddaughter graduate in May. That means more local businesses closing forever. That means too many deaths.
The people, businesses, and nonprofits in my community are ready to rally. This cooperative effort showed me we can still be optimistic, capable Americans. We just need more resources from the state and federal government. We need more doses, more FEMA staff, more honesty.
I've been so fortunate to be able to work from home and stay safe. Now I've got my first dose. It's time for me to pay it forward. I'll be volunteering once a week at vaccination clinics until we've knocked this pandemic back. And I'll be cultivating a little American optimism to go along with my hard-earned 2020 realism. We can do this. We have to do this.
(If you have a vaccine story, please post it in the comments.)
Charles Matheus grew up in an old mining town in Arizona. He managed to graduate from an Ivy League University and knows that you won't hold that against him.