Twenty-eight men stood before the audience. One by one they came forward to speak about the experiences they’d had over the past week. Before they had shared the past weekend together they had been strangers to one another. Now as their friends and families listened they spoke their “truth.” The first man said he had been sad all week, had even cried several times — and said it was good, it felt good to be sad, because for most of his life he had felt nothing. Next, a big heavy set middle-aged man said he had been angry all his life and was tired of it, and sorry for how it had affected his wife and children. When the weekend had ended he hugged his wife like he had never hugged a woman before, and as she sat in the audience he told her he loved her.

Another man said that he’d thought at over 60 years old it was too late for him to change. But when he attended Yom Kippur services the day after the weekend he discovered a new depth of spiritual meaning in the service. A man spoke of not being afraid anymore to confront the men who treat him unfairly at work. A young man spoke of not knowing his real father but feeling like he had twenty-seven fathers during the weekend.

It continued, each man speaking from the heart about his experience. Most stumbled for the right words until an unexpected eloquence flowed forth and moved the audience to sound their appreciation. Something extraordinary was occurring in that room, but before trying to make sense of it it’s necessary to look at what led up to that evening. In fact it would help to go back about 25 years.

Men and Masculinity

Since the women’s movement began in the early 1970s many men have been encouraged and challenged to re-examine what it means to be masculine, what it means to be a man. For most men it was difficult to accept this challenge because they were being asked to exercise faculties that were not a large part of the male model of life. They were being asked by girlfriends, sisters, wives, mothers, and the media to be introspective and to show feelings — just as they had been thoroughly trained not to do.

Most of the pressure to become a “new man” — more open, sensitive, and caring came from women and focused on our relations with women. We baby-boomer men were told we needed to do change to become better husbands, sons, and fathers. Some of us saw a potential pay-off there. Perhaps instead of feeling like we needed to be strong and successful, it might turn out that we could be valued instead for being honest and good.

Still, all of this uproar was confusing and unclear. What was even more uncertain was how we could make these changes, redefine masculinity, and still compete and thrive in the world of men. It was one thing to ask us to let down our guard in the bedroom; quite another to ask us to do so in the boardroom or the clubhouse.

Despite the uncertainties, many men in the last 25 years have taken the risk of introspection, self-awareness, and selfdisclosure. Many women, while encouraging and supporting, have never understood just how risky the venture has been for men. Since all men are assumed to be competitors, if not potential enemies, it hardly made much sense to reveal one’s weakness and vulnerability to other men. And be assured, most of us figured that what we would discover in our own inner search would be faults, weakness, and a touch of evil.

At first, we conceded that maybe, just maybe, a women who loved us might accept the truth. We’d open up, if the alternative was having her leave — but that’s where we’d to draw the line. Gradually, however, men began entering therapy, self-help groups, 12-step programs, and commercial personal growth programs (such as est seminars, Lifespring, and Forum). Men’s personal growth programs and writings slowly grew into a men’s movement that could complement the work of the women’s movement.

Eventually men began to realize that at the core of who they were was something called masculinity, together with a series of relationships with men. We began to respect and even honor our relationships with male friends, brothers, and, of course, fathers. We discovered that some of the qualities that we considered feminine that were sought for by the women in our lives could also be expressed in the company of men. In short, it was okay to have feelings with men and for men.

Many men have discovered that recognizing a fuller range of emotions not only doesn’t diminish their power and stature but increases and reforms these qualities. Many of us have discovered that by confronting our own inner demons we have uncovered an unanticipated strength and power. Dominance, wealth and status, no longer seem such desirable pursuits — and they don’t control our lives. They begin to appear to be at best, possible means, to a more meaningful end. Fortunately the same programs that led men to pose basic questions were able to suggest some general answers.

Mentoring: Spirituality and Service

As men began to question how to bring their inner personal work into the outer world two messages began to resonate: spirituality and service. Men like to be useful. Men like to be needed. We like to fix things. We are practical; we like to see results. Material things, whether earned, fixed, or purchased are a measuring stick. Now a new measure arose. What have you done for the good of the world starting with your own personal world? This is a spiritual question; it asks a man to find his place in the whole of the universe. It implies our connection to all of life. It suggests we have a part to play in the plan of a creator, a higher power, the nameless one, God. Perhaps we are not here to get what we can for ourselves and our loved ones, but to give what we can give to as many as our power can reach.

Men who had explored their emotions found their power and strength coming from something spiritual: love. As a man faces the turmoil of his emotional life he often discovers the core emotion from which all others are an imperfect, distorted expression. At the center and core of his feelings resides love. Not his love, just love, universal and profoundly powerful. When a man discovers his ability to love he naturally wants to use it to fix something or somebody. He wants to keep uncovering and sharing his love with others. He may well learn to express his love with hugs and words. But if a man’s way is to express himself in actions; he must do something, not just be someone. He will want to serve others without diminishing himself.

How can a man serve others, especially other men? He can mentor them. He can teach, guide, encourage, advise, and support another boy or man. Of course, he can mentor a girl or woman, too, but by mentoring a male he may short-circuit competition and share a wisdom he hardly knew he possessed — wisdom about growing up male.

Traditionally men have mentored other men in sports or occupational roles. They have taught a trade, coached a team, or helped a man advance in a business. Typically, a mentor is older than the man being mentored, too old to be a peer and too young to be a father figure. Generally the relationship is clearly circumscribed, covering only a particular part of the mens lives. There may not be any personal relationship outside the field of mentoring. They probably never talk about their personal lives or their feelings about each other. Yet removed from the competition among peers and the ambivalences of fathers and sons, the relationship can be rewarding for both men. They both may be able to give and receive, not a small thing between two men.

Unfortunately, the evidence indicates that few men born since World War II have either mentored or been mentored. Most of us had to rely on fathers who often were either not around or unavailable, friends who knew no more than we did, or media images of what a‘real man’ was.

The ManKind Project

Let’s return to the twenty-eight men standing before their friends and families. This event was extraordinary on several counts. The obvious one was that these men were publicly expressing thoughts and feelings men rarely even express in private. They also hugged one another with real feelings of affection — again, in public. It was extraordinary that these feelings were elicited during just one weekend together at a New Warrior Training Adventure. What made this event even more extraordinary was the organization behind it, and what will be offered to the men after their Adventure.

These weekend trainings are provided in conjunction with the ManKind Project, that has training centers around the USA, in Canada and in 7 other countries around the world. This is a national not-for-profit corporation that operates with a small paid staff. Most of the work is done by volunteers, men who have gone through the male initiation provided by the training. The paid leaders on the weekend are highly motivated, experienced men with a wide range of occupations who have been trained by the organization as guides. Most of the weekend staff are volunteers.

What all these men have in common is the desire to mentor other men by welcoming them into the ManKind Project community. After the weekend the new men are encouraged to join weekly Integration Groups which help them deepen their self-examination and integrate the training into their lives. The men who teach them how to begin an I-group are also volunteers who wish to mentor other men.

Mentoring has thus become an integral part of fulfilling the New Warrior Statement of Purpose: “We are an order of men called to reclaim the sacred masculine for our time through initiation, training, and action in the world.”

A New Warrior becomes a new kind of mentor. He mentors and supports others not merely in how to perform, but in how to become — how to make the world a better place by their inner struggles as well as their outer accomplishments. He is a man who can be of service to his family, his friends, his community, his nation, his earth, and his God. If he chooses to be.

Author's Bio: 

This article was originally written and published in 1996. Some edits have been made in the interest of accuracy. Robert Spatz is a member of the ManKind Project Chicago Community.

If you would like to step into a role as a mentor of men and a mentee of men - or if you feel the lack of male community in your life, visit the ManKind Project