The Life and Death … and Life Again of a Men’s Organization (Part I of II)

Jim Ellis, Legacy Editor

When we were young, there was no need for a “men’s organization” or hardly any organization at all. We had the natural need to bond with our own kind right from the start. And it just happened. No newsletters, no e-vites, not even a phone call to schedule an appointment. It was so normal to hang out and find camaraderie with our young buds. We had “our boys.” I had my Jamie, Clete, Billy, Scott and even that asshole Steve. The bond was so natural and yet unnamed, never talked about. The call to gather would appear in my best friend bouncing his basketball out on my sidewalk to call me out of the house. 

And I would show up, without a word.

As youngsters, we had “it.” It was the nondescript bond, the force of fun and connection without a title. The journey away from this bond and the shenanigans encountered there has been a painful story of neglect, as men of the world started to lose the connection to that unnamable link, barely noticing it as it happens, denying it if it’s ever pointed out, and subtly feeling its impact in a life of seclusion and confusion. 

The journey into isolation for men has impacted their success, their relationships, their empowerment and yes, their pursuit of happiness, fun and freedom. Without the accountability of a men’s circle demanding their best, without a band of like-minded maniacs giving license to the lunacy that can free even the most uptight of monkey-mind, without some outlet for the angst and pressure built up in an insane society, men have become lost on their own deserted islands. Men have lost touch with their “boys,” their men, their band of brothers … themselves. 

To fight this trend and to reunite with the bonds of brotherhood, men have established men’s groups, sports leagues, pool or poker nights, and, in my own men’s organization, a men’s “team.”  

Within the international organization MDI (sometimes called Mentor Discover Inspire, sometimes called Men’s Divisions International, sometimes just MDI) our basic unit of measure is the “team,” a collection of 6 to 15 men who gather weekly to tell the hard truths, to watch each other’s backs, to dig deep into a life’s purpose, to mentor each other, to hold each other to our best honorable selves and to just have fun like dudes do when left on their own. 

So what can maintain a men’s circle like we have? What makes it live on? We don’t have our schools pushing us together, and recess or PE to force us to gather in competition and camaraderie. We don’t have our parents telling us to “go outside and play.” We don’t have Jamie outside bouncing that basketball as our call to action. With such adult forces of committed relationships, careers, spouses, children, t-ball, soccer, financial concerns, and our own barriers to being challenged by comrades that care that much, how could even one men’s team even exist in our stressed society?


What keeps it alive? What kills it? There is indeed, with my men’s organization and with any men’s organization, the life and death … and life cycles. 

THE LIFE

Challenge

First, you have to earn it. For men, if something isn’t earned, it isn’t valued. The trophy hoisted after competing against a far inferior opponent makes a mockery of that trophy. Throw it away. Throw the small fish back! Reach for something higher. No Lombardi Trophy or Stanley Cup was won by the lowly and lazy. Only when men are challenged to earn their place or their prize do they find deep and long-lasting value. Men need to be challenged to make themselves better; men need a force to fight against and push against to grow, to expand, to overcome. What they overcome is their own stagnation, limitations and barriers.

So a men’s circle? A place to call your own? It can’t be some lax, hangout place. Our masculine soul and our male psyche’s desire to be challenged wouldn’t keep us here. In the legacy of MDI, back when entry into the circle entailed the completion of an arduous weekend initiation and then a strict and stringent “point program,” the challenge was definitely present … and in our face. Clearly delineated, the pathway into our men’s teams was one tough – and sometimes harsh – journey. Many were called, and many didn’t make it. 

Some may point at the present pathway into our teams – created by each division on its own – as a much easier road. Even if this is the case, it can’t be denied that the very act of being on a men’s team – making a weekly commitment to meetings and all that goes along with this – is a hefty challenge in itself. I don’t know of another organization where men’s circles are held so high, where each man is called on to be present for the success of its own circle, where men count so much that their very absence would be felt so deeply. Being on a weekly men’s team is not an easy path. And there is a part of a man that hates that … and needs that. 

Freedom

Like any human spirit, the spirit in men needs to be free. Men need a place where they can let go, not monitor their speech or their way of being, and just let it all fly. Fly free. Be free. There are so many limits placed upon them in a politically correct, censored, femininized, HR-based, gender biased, bullshit-bent, controlling and manipulative society. We have to tow the line with bosses; we have to wear the masks of conformity just to make it through a workday, or through a tough discussion with a girlfriend. With so many daily limits and chains, there is a need to find a safe place where our stifled emotions can be released, where the off-color joke doesn’t offend sensitive ears, where the hardest of truths can be expressed with the knowing it’s told to someone who wants to, as well, hear the hardest of truths. 

Honor

With all this freedom of expression, there must be some form of boundary placed upon ourselves … just so we don’t end up in jail. But the boundary doesn’t come in the form of censorship or a motherly wagging finger. It comes in the form of right action discovered in a code of honor. Honor – an elusive and expansive topic – can be approached by the male directly through his gut, and his word. When word and actions align, there is honor and a clear gut. When word and actions are not aligned, there is dishonor and hopefully an aching in that same gut. With honor as our guide, we can be freed to act in ways outlandish and wild. Our wild man can roam free finally … but not to rape and pillage but rather to, simply, enjoy life in a way that harms none and uplifts all. 

Again, no other organization I know of holds honor in the same place as MDI. MDI leads the way in holding men accountable to their word and then opening up a space for men to “make right” or “clean up” whenever a word or agreement gets broken. In times gone past, a common response to negatively impacting another through a broken word would be the offering: “What can I do to make it up to you?” Now defunct, that “making it up” has lost all favor in a present society built on avoidance, blame shifting, and irresponsibility. Not MDI. At its lively best, this organization holds high a man’s word and the honor of a man so he can be his best for his family, career and community. 

Commitment

A men’s organization without some form of commitment (or agreement) might as well be a bunch of stray cats wandering the neighborhood. Yes, we need structure and we need agreements to keep that structure in place. Men can be so different, man-to-man. So what would build the bridge between one man and another? What could unify the men who hold such different frames of references and filters? Simply “standards.” MDI men create standards, or agreements, that hold men and teams together, solidifying a foundation on which to stand. Standards help by gluing teams together. One way to see how standards work is to take away a standard. For example imagine removing the “be on time” standard from a team. What would happen? Men showing up onesy-twosy, here and there, if at all, deflating cohesion and creating a vague and unwieldy state of being. It would open the door to a lazy man wielding a lazy mind. And that can’t lead anywhere good. 

Standards are also good benchmarks to see how we are doing with our commitments and our word. If you never agreed to anything, then you would never test your integrity. You would be one of those floating new-agey bubble brains out there whose consistency is secured only by his irresponsibility. Nah. With solid standards, men from different sides of the tracks can end up on one track … with the intention that this track is going one direction – towards all of our success. 

Masculinity

Men need a place where the masculine is alive and well. This would be the place opposite of feminine. No matter the calls for a man to be “balanced” and carrying a “feminine side,” there is a deep need for our men to have a place where the masculine spirit thrives. And what is that masculinity in its highest form? A place of black and white mentality, not debatable by the mutable and interchangeable. A place not run by emotional reaction but rather empowering response. A place of solution over problem, of responsibility over rebellion, of maturity over mask, of wisdom over wimpiness, of outrageous exploration over caveman hiding, of strict standards over anemic excuses, of fathering over mothering. The list can go on and on, with definitions as many as men standing in your circle. Masculinity, like honor, resides deep in the gut and goes beyond limiting and lame words. You know when it’s present, and you know when it is not. When masculinity is present, you may feel its immense power and can be charged up after each higher purpose encounter with one of your men. When it’s not present … man, it can just suck. 

Higher Purpose

Here is the big one, and it covers a lot of ground here. Important ground. In fact, this topic is the most vital when considering the “life” of a men’s organization. Having a higher purpose – considering a bigger picture beyond the limiting bounds of a selfish ego – is the number one factor in keeping alive the power and purpose of a circle of men. 

It brings to the forefront one of the most powerful and underestimated qualities within man: humility. When the ego runs the show, the context of care is puny. Humbleness takes a hike, and the man shows up all about him. You’ve met that guy. You’ve been that guy. The one so consumed with his needs and self, that what’s best for the team goes by the wayside. He is the “i” in the world “team” … the outsider who places himself outside of the team because of his self-absorbed approach. The team vibrant with players most lively makes sure that the team players are living on the terms of something higher than just the individuals; they are all surrendering to a higher purpose – one that the collective can embrace together. 

MDI’s greatness, its “life,” comes to the forefront because it’s one of the only environments in our society where the pesky and troublesome ego is kept at bay. It’s one of the only organizations that works so hard to ensure men can rise above the lowly individual level of reality and expand to include more and more of his world – rising to levels relationship, team, community, society and humanity. Besides focusing time on this concept, MDI also keeps the ego in its place in these ways: 

  1. Having men living in a “team” environment, supporting them to expand to a higher level of awareness. 
  2. Holding to the code of honor’s tenets: “commitment over ego” and “be humble” and “embrace all men.”
  3. Having the leaders accountable to the men, more so than the men accountable to just the leaders. 
  4. Having everyone accountable to the same mutually agreed upon standards of conduct.
  5. Holding divisional and regional events where leaders are interviewed by the men to ensure the leaders are servants and not tyrants.  
  6. Recalling a legacy where events had men stripped of their differences and put in touch with a higher context of unity with all men. 
  7. Watching MDI remove itself from the top-down ruling from an institute and developing its own trainings – created, owned and operated by MDI – with facilitators that don’t hail as expert but merely space-holders for the men to find their own answers. 
  8. Joining in circles where we all face inward and not in theater-style seating looking towards the one orator. 
  9. Using phrases “It’s not about you” and “leaders leading from the back,” as well as “trust the men” not “trust the man.” 
  10. Having a protocol whereby individual men must enter the division on the terms of the division and not the individual. 

A man can live on his own terms and be in his circle of one, enjoying all the benefits of just standing on his own, or he can surrender his ego to live on the terms of something larger … and in so doing bring life to that bigger picture. 

In summary, the “life” found within our successful men’s circles is due to a masculine nature that is challenged to be at its best and is free to express itself, balanced with the sacred boundary of a code of honor, held high through respected agreements, commitments and standards, and honored through the surrender of any egotistic and selfish aspects that would threaten it. 

And this brings up a good point: can this “life” be threatened? Can the drive to join and celebrate that innate bond die off? Can Jamie’s bouncing of the basketball go silent and still? Can death overtake a men’s organization such as MDI? Oh yes…Oh yes it can…

(To be continued next edition.) 

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