It's 6:55am on a Saturday morning. I walk into a bright yellow room with florescent lights blaring. There are a handful of chairs scattered around a sizable table. There isn't coffee. There aren't donuts. But there are men, filing in, like me, to this sacred and un-safe space--and they are here to do The Work.
We are, most of us, self-declared "addicts," intimacy junkies, attachment adverse--broken when it comes to keeping agreements with others and ourselves. Serial dating, affairs, hook-ups, porn, sexting, parallel relationships--hell, a few second families. You name it. These guys have seen it all. The truth is I don't really care what they've done. Nobody is trying to win the prize for best "addict." Actually what I care about is that they're being honest.
This is a group that values honesty over performance. Don't get me wrong--performance matters too. But for many of us we hid behind accomplishments, achievements, and pleasantries. I know I did. While I was out championing social justice, equity, and the kingdom of god, somehow I was able to break some of the most basic agreements to myself and to those I loved. How did that happen? One trainer from the seminal life transformation catalyst EST said it like this:
"It's quite simple. You break agreements because you live under the theory that you're special, a privileged character, and are thus free to cheat--on income taxes, stop signs, wives, husbands, expense accounts, and certainly on the little things..."
Now, that sort of sounds like performance language doesn't it? It is, sort of. But it's actually something far deeper--its about authenticity. When I'm living and speaking authentically my words match my actions. I stop being "an acrobat, to act like THIS and talk like THAT" (in the venerated words of BONO from U2). In the group of men I've been meeting with every Saturday morning I've learned to reflect my truth. It's one of the first times in my life I've been able to do something like that. I'm hardly alone in that.
As men, culturally, we are told to be better, to change, and to improve. The stakes are high--our jobs, our relationships, our reputations. We know that something different is needed but there aren't structures that readily support that shift. The places we've carved out, as a society, for such honesty is usually associated with burnouts and dropouts--failures. Masking (lying) becomes one of the easiest ways to get to the place we feel others want us to be while maintaining an image of having it all together. As a client of mine said once after it was revealed they had been giving false reports in session, "I just thought everyone would be happier if they thought I was doing better."
Not too long ago my son had a falling out with a friend in his Scout troop. When the meeting time came, he said he was too tired from the day, had studied too hard for the test tomorrow, and asked if he could not go to the Scout meeting. Because I didn't really have all the facts, I gave him a pass. Later he admitted that at least a large part of the reason he avoided the meeting was because of the relationship stuff. I was happy he ended up letting me know what happened, but sad that in the moment he chose to manipulate the facts to get an outcome he wanted. It was easy--just leave out some of the details. The tragedy was that we never got to explore those realities, deal with them, or even validate his own experience. He was left holding his turmoil alone. Suffering in silence. That isn't the way of Men. It's the way of boys.
A real tribe of men practices ruthless authenticity. It means that if you feel like shit, you say it. It doesn't matter if you don't know why, or what the cause is. Nobody needs you to process that right here, right now. But you say it. It means if you are having a response to someone else, a challenge or a disagreement, you're willing to speak it--then and there. Yeah--you may look foolish. And your facts may come out looking like a battered piñata. That's OK. You said it. You were authentic. And you know what, if you don't feel like talking--then you get to fucking say that too.
Authenticity allows others to see you and to interact with you. Authenticity provides the spring board for real relationship. Authenticity gives an opportunity to find meaningful connection and real solutions. And, authenticity often sucks. It really does. It doesn't feel safe. In fact--it's not. It's risky. It's easier to minimize, avoid, distance, lie, or cheat. Those things give quick payoff. But--they really don't land a man where he wants to be--in a tribe of other men doing the Work.
7am comes early on Saturday. I drag my ass in, tired, and sometimes beat down from the week. But at least I'm seen. At least I'm choosing to be authentic. And in that moment--I get to invite others into my world and be apart of theirs.