Jim Ellis Editor, Legacy Magazine
I remember in the early 1990s when I first starting looking for a men’s support group. I had realized that a majority of my friends were female, that I had a certain disdain for my own gender and that all my romantic relations were ending in absolute heartbreak. My heartbreak. I knew I needed some dudes in my life. But where? Upon my search for a men’s support group, I found this:
- One local men’s group that was so tight and confidential, there wasn’t any space for a new member to join.
- A men’s group at my church that was actually lead by a woman.
- A loosy-goosy group that met monthly with lackluster energy and even worse attendance.
Nothing was working for me. Then I heard about this Men’s Weekend event. After attending this in November 1997, and then finding myself in a “Point Program” and subsequently on a men’s team, I realized that this was what I had been looking for.
But what is this “men’s team,” and how does it relate to the “men’s support group” most people recognize?
First, you can look at the similarities between a men’s team and a men’s support group:
- They are made up of men only.
- They are intended to open a space for men to gain support from others in the collective.
- They allow for men to reveal at levels they may not be accustomed.
- They hold some sense of confidentiality.
Now for some of the differences:
- A men’s team is exactly that: a team. Each member counts and would be missing if he was not present at a specific meeting. Groups tend to be looser in their attendance and don’t require a full team to be at each gathering.
- Attendance matters for a team to be unified; attendance for a group is not a requirement. Teams miss their “quarterbacks” or “linebackers.” Groups just exist regardless of member participation or not.
- Groups are centered around the concept of creating a space, with possibly a consistent leader and ever-changing participants, whereas a team carries the same “team players” each week.
- Subsequently, the level of commitment for a team is much greater than that for a group.
- Teams are committed to a common purpose – some direction they are going, with results they would like to achieve. Groups hang out with a basic overriding purpose that does not include a direction, mostly because participants can come and go.
- Teams have agreed-upon standards that maintain the unity among the members. Such standards hold the members accountable to their word. Groups may have agreements, but with ever-changing membership, holding a man accountable can be a difficult endeavor.
- Teams have inherent ownership in the team, whereas group members normally can take or leave the group, without the care that comes from ownership. Team members own the success of their circle and teammates. Groups have members who come and go and leave it up to the leader or facilitator to create some sort of success.
Says Geoff Tomlinson, MDI’s incoming President, “I guess we are technically a men’s support group in the broad definition, but we are so different from what I see on TV. In reality we are more of an ass-kicking circle. At our team meetings men often kick each other’s asses to be the man they want to be, especially when they aren’t being that. We tell them the unvarnished truth. It can look like an ass kicking, but one I believe all men can benefit from. We are a men’s support group, but very different from what men picture, or imagine a men’s support group to be.”
Now that I’ve been on a committed men’s team for almost 20 years, I couldn’t imagine attending a men’s support group. Just seems so flimsy, so weak, so blah. For me, it wouldn’t hold the high level of care that would create a space for the depth and magic that comes from a committed circle of men, truly dedicated to all of the men’s well being. For me, groups are just loosy-goosy enough to play into the pitfalls that harm men: laziness, unaccountability, sloppiness, superficiality, etc.
Whereas it is much harder to be a member of a team – and be committed week after week to 10 men or so – I’ll still take this path over that of a men’s group. You will always hear the crowd cheering “Go Team!” Not imagining the battle cry “Go group!” No.
So give me a men’s team any day. It has led me to a place where I have come to love my own gender and the greatness found there, to halt the heartbreaks over romantic relationships and to realize something more than “friends” in my male connections.
I have found teammates.