Gratitude for Living with Terms

Michael Burns
MDI Contributor

A definition of “terms:” who a man is as defined by those things he must do and those things he must not do.

April 1986, a public school in Manhattan, NYC. I spent a weekend attending an all-men’s workshop, “Men, Sex and Power,” with 179 men I didn’t know. It was considered “The 20th Century Initiation into Manhood.”

I heard Justin Sterling say that as a mature masculine man I must know, honor, and adhere to who I am, by knowing my terms. People important to my life must also know my terms. Believe you me, I had no clue what he was talking about. Really, many of the concepts he delivered in words that weekend didn’t have a lot of meaning for me. But the orchestrated sequence of emotional experiences I shared with the other men had a profound, life-changing impact. I had never consciously experienced, or understood, the context of my emotions in the previous 37 years.

The gratitude I am living now at 75 comes from the fact that I understand “terms.” I understand what I must and mustn’t do, I know how to best express who I am through my terms. I own my terms.

Commitment: (n.)

  1. An engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action
  2. An agreement or pledge to do something in the future
  3. The state or instance of being obligated or emotionally impelled
  4. A state in which there is no option for quitting or failure, no matter what

At the weekend event, I also heard about this commitment concept and its importance. Justin stressed that it is vital to keep commitments, to keep my word, to be trustworthy. Doing and being that would help me become a successful man who earns respect and rank, with myself and with others.

The concept of commitment was easier for me to gradually incorporate into my way of being than the concept of terms. Self-employed at the time, I owned and operated a retail natural food store. Commitment was part and parcel to that lifestyle. I have taken on untold number of commitments over these 37 years in all aspects and phases of my life.

Yet I hadn’t learned to prioritize my terms, so commitments did run into, and over, other important parts of my life. It has taken all these varied experiences with commitments to learn about prioritizing them, which helps with choosing when to make an unalterable commitment.

Up to the recent past, I had quickly stepped into leadership roles, community service jobs, assisting others in times of need, and being present at meetings and events. I’m finding that choosing not to commit to things I had so readily taken on in the past is a challenge in my life now that I am an “elder.” I am grateful now that I can more clearly identify my priority list and my terms.

Since the wake-up call of the pandemic and my wife’s cancer/chemo experience, my number one commitment is clear: I commit to be available to Patty when her care, needs, and well-being are at stake.

Say I am asked to fill a need, whether it be a leader role or a service and that requires a commitment. If taking on this obligation, in any way puts at risk my top priority commitment, then I have to pass. I can negotiate and find alternative ways I can be of use, without restricting my freedom, and without risking being unavailable for Patty.

I am grateful for all these years, situations, trainings and people that have brought me to live as a practicing elder.

2 thoughts on “Gratitude for Living with Terms”

  1. Thank you for your excellent article on living within my Terms.
    I hope that men realize it is OK to say NO.
    Too often we get caught in the energy flow of “I can do this” when the such an effort is of much lower importance than the “I must do this”.

    I really enjoy your point of terms including what a man must do as well as what a man must not do.

    As an aside I am an elder and enjoy a need to support my wife in our medical system.
    Your article really helps my perspective.
    So again, Thank you.

  2. Michael Burns , in the short time I had the privilege of getting to know, and being in relationship with you, I always found myself deeply contemplating questions you would ask me. The part that really stands out is you never gave me an answer because there was no right or wrong answer. They were just questions to make one think. which would unveil a logical thought process that I’ve adopted ever since. I really appreciate your methodical nature and the way you go about coaching, younger men from your experience. Reading this really brought me back to circling up with you and learning from your life experience. I have a healthy gratitude for the role you played in sculpting me as a man today and although far from perfect positive demeanor, and will press on serves as a reminder to your courageous character thank you for this valuable excerpt of Burns life .
    Wishing you and the Mrs. a life, full of health, happiness and fulfillment. Thank you . -Salmons son of Robert , November 2013.

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