By Jim Ellis, Southwest Region, San Diego Men’s Division, Code of Armor 

In Part I of this 2-part article (seen here), we explored what keeps a men’s organization alive, vibrant and growing. The elements included but weren’t limited to:

Challenge – Making the circle a place where men are tested, stretched and challenged to sharpen their swords, grow personally and be at their best.

Freedom – A safe place where stifled emotions can be released, the off-color and politically incorrect joke can be expressed, and the hardest of truths can be spoken and heard. 

Honor – Holding high the idea of integrity between a man and … his word, his higher purpose and his care for the larger collective. 

Commitment – The structure created out of agreements and standards where a man can know exactly where other men stand in his life.

Masculinity – A place of solution over problem, of responsibility over rebellion, of empowering response over emotional reaction, of maturity over mask, of wisdom over wimpiness, of strict standards over lame-ass excuses, of fathering over mothering … a black-and-white mindset not debatable by the mutable and interchangeable. 

Higher Purpose – The act of considering a bigger picture beyond the limiting bounds of a selfish and limited individual. 

You can add in your own words here, including and – once again – not limited to: fun, ownership, accountability, camaraderie, training, outrageousness …


So with all these lively qualities being present in our MDI, what could ever harm or dampen it? What could bring on the death of a men’s organization? This carries a many-layered response. However I’m going to cut to the chase. I believe it can be found in a simple word: ego.

We have heard of the concept before: “Ego kills relationships.” What does that mean? Perhaps it’s as easy as identifying the “ego” with an individual and his needs. What could harm a partnership, relationship, team or organization more than the stranglehold of an individual fighting the individual’s battle, separate from the good of a collective? This collective could be as small as a one-on-one relationship and as big as a nation, a planet, or even a simple men’s organization, especially one built upon relationships. 

The ego living at the individual level is a tricky, pesky devil. But it just may be the thing that threatens what we have in our lives, not only in MDI, but our way of life in our community and country. Now this is not to say we should kill the ego or even squelch it, as we have learned in some of our past trainings, since the drive to succeed may be found in our individual passion. In fact, our Code of Honor’s “commitment before ego” leaves the space for us to have a healthy ego but one that subjugates itself to our commitments, consciously made. Even so, left unchecked, the ego – in its most arrogant state of little bitch – can take over and become quite a barrier to the higher good. 

In its smallest and yet most overbearing form, it does all it can to get its way, regardless of the will of the collective or the health of community. It is the mighty, the alpha and the omega, the alpha dog, the glory hog. Its truth is THE truth. It is the king who rules with a careless dictate. Its win is its win alone, as it holds a glorified trophy, conquering others with a battle cry for the one! Not “One for all and all for one” but “One for one and only one.” Without a commitment bigger than itself or an expanded consciousness that realizes the bigger picture and a humanity heart, the ego will find any way possible to be superior and special, even to the ultimate detriment for the person to which it belongs. 

I am proud to be part of one organization – MDI – that does so much to keep this bugger at bay, none of the least creating an environment where men can play at the team level, taking them to a higher place, living on the terms of something bigger than themselves. 

It is not easy to expand the self to live beyond a selfish level of needs. It’s not natural to the ego, which will fight for its self-absorbed wants each step of the way. It’s not easy to go to the levels higher: relationship, team, organization, community, society and humanity. It’s not easy to be a true teammate, living at the team level, releasing the me-only immature aspect and grow to include the mature level of wanting the well-being of all 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 other men on a team, even if these men are quite different in temperament, background, personality and basic beliefs. Over time, it’s not easy to find and maintain that common denominator, that core bond.  It’s not easy to be on a men’s team. 

It’s not easy to be in MDI. 

Perhaps, for the best for all the members here, it’s not supposed to be easy. How many sports teams do you know that reached the top, grabbed the Stanley Cup or took home the Lombardi Trophy because they made it easier on themselves and glided by? None. They fought, they practiced over and over again, they sacrificed, they pushed themselves, they released the glory hogs and the prima donnas in order to find not just the singular goal, but also all that it took to dissolve barriers in reaching it.

Over the years, within MDI and what existed prior to its establishment with our legacy, we – as a collective – consisted mainly of men’s teams. It made us stand out. It separated us from other “men’s groups” that didn’t have the same sort of commitment or purpose. In these early days, men would do all they could to have all team members present at the team meetings, even meeting at odd hours of the night or morning. Groups do not do this since groups do not “miss” members not there. Teams – with each player counting – will do what it can to have all its valued members present. 

Just the mere practice of scheduling team meetings reveals to a team who is a team player and who is a basic individual. Who holds the context of “let’s work it out” with an open mind, and who holds the context of “I must protect my time” with a clenched, demanding and fearful mind? How many of the latter men stay with MDI? This practice, among the countless other scenarios that a team of men encounters, has created for MDI a landscape where men are challenged every meeting to rise above their egos and expand to a higher way of being. Each step of the process – with meeting dates, agreed-upon standards, bullshit calling and deep revealing – men are faced with the choice of unifying with their brothers or polarizing with an apparent foe. It’s a classic scenario that only true sports teams, music bands, theater troupes, communities, families and men’s organizations have had the courage to face. 

Each step of the way there can be a struggle for MDI men (volunteers) who are paid only through the value they bring and the value they discover within their time here. There can be a constant push and pull to remain here and ensure the “death” does not take over. So many valid forces can pull a man away from an organization that takes time, energy and effort … and costs precious moments away from family, careers and other commitments. Even so, I believe there is no power stronger to pull a team under or an organization down than that of the ego. 

And so, how does this ego show up in this organization?

Living on the Individual Terms

Whenever one man expects the division or a team to live on his own terms, there is an ego in charge. That’s a no-brainer right? This doesn’t mean a man can’t have personal terms, but those would reign over his life not the expanded life of a division or organization. This phenomena can show up in various ways, whenever a man runs his agenda supreme … whether that be the “bully” pushing for only his way, a “suck-hole” member manipulating the circle by taking all the time and attention with a problem-mode, or men dictating how his involvement will be with a team or division over and above the agreed-upon requirements to be in the circle. 

Now, it’s true we have a number of men existing within MDI and not participating on a men’s team. Though this has been made acceptable by MDI as an entity, men claiming to be too busy or disinterested in being on a “team” may just be buying and selling their own bullshit, especially when being a team member can be accomplished in many ways through a creative, no-problem approach. These men run the real risk of being duped – left unaccountable and “special” – by the tricky and ultimately detrimental voice of the ego. 

Shadow Leaders 

The ego can easily show up when one man believes or acts in a way that separates himself from the rest of the men. The circle is broken whenever the man, filled with ego, chooses to break with the circle and stand at the apex of some invisible pyramid. This elevated man becomes special, superior, separate. Many times, this arises in some men who have been in MDI for a lengthy period of time, securing for themselves some self-appointedhonor as “shadow leaders.” 

This is not to describe the humble veteran who acts as mentor, elder and servant to help guide the new MDI men. Rather, these are the veterans (or even newer men) who create the “good ole boys club” making their clique of importance, opinions and thoughts more vital than any others. This is not specific to certain men, but a habit that can befall any man at any time. The difference is so very subtle. The difference is found in the ego. 

What comes with the “special ones” is “special treatment” where men are considered different than others, rather than unified with the collective. The focus is on separation rather than unity. The motivating force for this type of behavior is, once again, the ego. Within MDI it can show up in various ways. At a team meeting, veterans may not ask questions to discover the truth about a man, but rather advise the man with statements of authority claiming to know the truth. Or a veteran may master the jargon and staunch mannerisms to avoid authentic revealing and true transparency. Or at a meeting, a long-standing member may dismiss the high standards of a man who just came off of a “point program” claiming, “This isn’t how we do it here in the division.” Or at anannual convention, leaders may reward other leaders with plaques and awards, while the new men aren’t even on the agenda. The final result of exalting the veterans over the new men is the lack of new men and then the fading away of the old … and the end of an organization.  

The ego’s voice of entitlement and separation can arise in any moment. Whenever there is separation in a circle, in any form, the circle becomes weaker. Whenever the leaders appear to be more powerful or wiser than the larger collective, this weakens the power and might of “the men.” Such could be the trapping of a shadow leader. 

In times past, if any men were held elevated it wasn’t the veterans but rather the new warriors who routinely returned from a Men’s Weekend experience full of piss and vinegar. They were highly respected because many times they were closer to that raw masculine power than the veterans who may have slid backwards into complacency or mediocrity. The focus was on the raw power of the men, not specific men in leadership. This shift of power to the men could also be found in the move from Sterling Technology to the “wisdom of the men,” and the Legacy Discovery’s focus on participants having their own answers, while the facilitators simply worked to hold a space for them. 

Even with this shift of “power of the circle” above “power of one man,” there has been a new trend to showcase other unaffiliated “experts” and “consultants” in our circles. This once again puts us at risk to be serving some special single man out front, run by his individual desires and agendas. If we start holding leaders as if they are special, wiser or more powerful than others, we start to lose what makes us great, and what has had us sustain as long as we have – the subjugation of the ego to the truth of unity. 

Double Standards / Low Standards

At last, here we are at number one. The number one thing that the ego requires to tip the scale and put itself squarely in charge of a collective is the slip and slide into low standards and double standards. 

It may not be apparent at first. But consider anyone who haphazardly dismisses an agreement they hold with you, or anyone who believes he is not accountable to the same laws as you. We are talking about immature kings who wield their power on a whim, corrupt politicians who give personal favors out to certain corporations, the police force who enforce some and not others based on their own call. We are talking about the unaccountable individual, the ego. 

Within MDI, it might appear as one leader getting special treatment at a division meeting, not held accountable to being on time, or certain men on a conference call not being called out when a standard is broken.

The ego would want to escape such accountability. Yet what happens when standards or laws are held high for everyone, bar none? If all men live under the same rule of law, there is equality with the people, and the ego must take a backseat. If anyone receives special treatment then the rumblings begin. Not fair, not cool, unjust. The special ones will become entitled; the un-special ones will become oppressed, and the battles will be forthcoming. 

The separate ego cannot sustain itself without special treatment, and this often means excluding itself from that which unites a circle, such as standards, commitments and accountability. Non-accountability becomes the ego’s dream! And this in turn ultimately becomes the team’s demise. Sloppiness and entropy take over, and the foundation of basic alignment can be lost. It’s only a matter of time before disease takes over. And then it may come to be that those who do fight for higher standards are the ones isolated and made wrong, while others go silent in alignment with the slide into mediocrity … as if they can somehow look away from something they care for … while it slowly but surely dies, right before their eyes.

Conclusion – A Bigger Picture

With these diseases – egos living on its own terms, shadow leadership, low standards – there soon can come the death. 

And it’s not just a phenomenon observed within a men’s team. In the bigger picture of life, a US country standing as a macrocosm to our MDI microcosm, you may see the same trend. What is the result of a collective that has one man at the top as “king” while the people are not the ones in power? What is the result when a nation has “shadow governments” and law enforcers with entitlement and special privileges above the public’s best interests? Where does equality and freedom go when laws are made to reward specific special interests? What happens when a Republic designed so all would live under one all-encompassing law – free and equal – becomes a nation that is ruled and controlled by the elite? 

Just look at the US nation or any nation where the people are not the ones with the power. You will ultimately see the fighting and unrest, as one leader or set of leaders make the unilateral “executive orders,” where law enforcers act in ways that do not adhere to the same standards of the people, where truth-tellers or whistleblowers are shushed in ways we don’t even know, where a country not based on the objective standard of its time, a Constitution, experiences the effects of random rule. No matter your leanings on the political spectrum, it does not matter. No, it does not. It is not hard to see the analogy; it’s impossible to see the results. 

Such diseases – special treatment, inequality, double standards – can only lead, whether that be to a nation, a city or a men’s organization, to conflict, unrest and some form of “death.”


Even though there are those tendencies, driven by the ego, to create separation, derision, specialness and bullshit, there is always that which resides underneath it all. How do we keep it alive? How do we keep away from disease and death? It’s simple but not easy. 

It could be as simple as focusing on that which unites us: 

  • A common vision
  • A purpose that takes us out of the lower realms and into relationship, community and humanity
  • The agreements, commitment and standards that can keep the most different of men on the same page
  • The wisdom of the collective led by servant leaders
  • The space to speaking up in order to get to the truth
  • That unnamable bond that men experience when gathered with its own
  • The great power in the Code of Honor’s “Be humble”

And then after we focus on what unites us, we can detoxify whatever disease comes along to block our greatness and our might. A “detox” can come in forms you have already practiced: telling the truth, calling bullshit, speaking up for the team, holding everyone accountable to the same standards, cleaning up what has been broken, clearing lists or grudges. 

We may find without the diseases, we will have what we really want right there in front of us: our brothers in arms, and a team, division, region and organization vibrant, fun, meaningful … alive! 

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