This is a particular wonderful meeting if you have a wide variety of ages in your group. Men in their late thirties can ask a man in his seventies what to expect. The fears of aging can be eased. There have been some insightful studies done on aging. One publication that is exceptionally well done is Aging Well by George E. Vaillant, M.D. I recommend that if you are running this meeting. You might want to read it first and bring in some of the information from the studies quoted. Based on the research, being part of social organizations like a men’s group may be one of the best steps you can take to shape a happy future.
Everyone tosses out ideas for future meetings. After some discussion about what each meeting could include, each man volunteers to take one of the meetings. If some topics aren’t picked, don’t do them. On the other hand if the group decides on a certain set of meetings, you could draw names to determine leaders. Drawing names always works well when everyone might want to avoid a particular topic. If you come up with some good ones, share them with us on the website.
Do we avoid conflicts at all cost? What are the results of facing conflicts and what are the costs of dodging them? How do we decide when to engage in conflict? This is where some role-playing games work well. For example, one man plays the mother-in-law and another practices using all the communication skills. After about ten minutes, they stop and the other men in the group give feedback. Then they switch roles for the next round.
Men need to practice conflict in order to be comfortable with it. Knights spent years in role-playing and practicing combat just to be ready for a few crucial minutes of their lives. Some of our non-physical combats can be as important. As men in community, we can help strengthen and prepare our comrades to do battle.
For groups that include drumming, this is a great meeting. Men can make rattles, shakers, clackers, or decorate their drums. Other groups can make posters, cards, or decorate a small wooden craft box. In ancient times, men worked together for hours. Some of the oldest archeological digs have revealed rows of flint-chip piles. It is believed that they were made by men sitting in a row making spear heads. One theory is that music started by the men chipping flint in rhythm as they worked in huts.
We are all going to do it one day and we all have thought about it. Is there an afterlife? Is death just a part of a continuing cycle of reincarnation? How would we prefer to die? Would it be better to know a year in advance or go in a flash? What about writing a bucket list? (Things we want to do before we kick the bucket.) How and why do some men avoid excepting the inevitability of death while others easily accept it? Why do some men die spiritually before they die physically?
In one study, preschoolers were brought into a room with several M&M’s on the table. They were told that they would be left alone for a while, (no time was given) and that, if they wanted to, they could eat the M&M’s. But if they waited without eating them until the adult returned, they would be given more (Again, no amount was indicated). After the experiment was finished, the children were then tracked for many years. The children who ate the M&M’s right away did poorly in school and in life; the children who were able to wait longer did better, and the children who waited until the adult returned with more M&M’s were exceptionally successful in school and life. They found that the ability to delay gratification was the single most important factor in success, compared to IQ, physical differences, race, sex, etc. They also noted the variety of coping mechanisms that the children used to avoid eating the M&M’s. Some covered their eyes, stood away, sang, tapped, yelled, etc.
Discuss how we have succeeded or failed at delayed gratifications in our lives. Is the belief in an afterlife the ultimate delayed gratification? Is buying now and paying later part of it? Do the men who have the ability to save and those that don’t see a correlation? How much had this ability or lack of it affected our lives? If any men dropped out before the eight weeks, was it because they were unable to work first in order to find an award later? This criterion can be applied to everything from income to parent-child relationships.
Almost everyone suffers from some depression now and then. It can be mild or intense. Men are often embarrassed by it because our culture’s image of a man says that he is virile, energetic, and active. Depression appears to be the opposite. Whenever I see exaggerated cultural stereotypes, I wonder why society is so determined to project such an image. What is it covering up? In this case, I think it is covering the fact that we as men do become depressed and we have difficulty controlling it. Be free in your group to talk about it. Discuss personal coping mechanisms that have worked. These can include medications and what their side effects are. You might be surprised at how many men are or have been on medication for depression yet have never told another man. And consider this, the extremely depressed are most likely not in your group. This is an issue that we as a society have not recognized or dealt with well.
Meeting topic can be about our personal history with drugs ranging from coffee and sugar to debilitating drug addiction. Honesty is especially important here, were there positive, negative or no ramifications to your use.
What about the use of drugs in religious or spiritual work? Are traditions like serving wine at a Catholic Mass or Peyote at the American Church of the Peyote Way, or tea at the Buddhist tea ceremony all acceptable practices or not? What role do these drugs play? What is the difference between the roles? Does the use of coffee after services among Lutherans constitute a spiritual community’s use of a common drug? Where are the boundaries of acceptable drug use for each of us, and how did we arrive at these conclusions? We may never agree but exploring, these issues, is important. Explorations will help us understand ourselves and to accept differences among the men.
I practice architecture so, at one of our meetings, I passed out graph paper and asked each man to draw a boyhood home. I told them to scale each box on the paper as a 2 foot by 2 foot square. I then told them the size of the room that we were in, 20 feet by 30 feet. So if their bedroom was about a quarter the size of that room, it would be 10 feet by 15 feet. The drawing of their bedroom would be 5 squares by 7 or 8 squares. It doesn’t have to be precise. We were amazed by the memories that this exercise brought back. When we were done, we talked about what we did where. It was like visiting each boy’s home.
This can also be varied with every guy drawing his perfect dwelling.
The meeting(s) can be about our fathers, our children or both. What would you change about either relationship? What are the best parts of the relationship? What did you learn from your father? This is difficult for men who never knew their fathers or had fathers that were not there for them.
If members don’t have children, the question could be, “If I had children what would I want the relationship to be?” For men who are fathers the question might be, “What do I wish was different about my relationship with my children?” Is the relationship different between fathers and son and fathers and daughters?
This topic can be about everything from food addictions, losing weight, or best food we ever eat. What do we want our relationship with food to be? Look up the original definition of gluttony as written by Pope Gregory as one of the seven deadly sins. Did you know seasoning or the use of a sauce was once considered gluttony? Franciscan monks were once instructed to sprinkle ashes on their food so that they would not be tempted to enjoy it. Does anyone feel guilty about enjoying their food, or not eating everything on their plate? Love-Hate and guilt relationships with food can be daily issues. Do we understand why we eat, what we eat?
A more playful take on this is doing blindfolded taste test. You will find that the range of ability to identify flavors is very diverse and that some men have the ability to identify one flavor but not another.
This is God, not necessarily religion. Who or what is God? Nothing! Everything! A father image! Nature! Is He good? Is He male? Is He evil? Is man a reflection of His goodness or His maliciousness? Feel free to challenge, to dig deep without being offensive. In this kind of discussion reflective conversations are great. For example, “I hear you telling me that … if that is true then why do I also hear you say… To me, it sounds like a contradiction, is it? The purpose is to help men clarify their thinking into a consistent statement of faith. Men in Buddhist and Christian monasteries have used such questioning for centuries in order to sharpen their understanding.
From wood working to astrology, are our hobbies our bliss? What are our hobbies and why do we do them (or not if we don’t)? What is keeping us from turning them into our profession? This can bring up a lot of issues related to work and pleasure. Some men believe that work must be unpleasant or it isn’t real work. If all our hobbies produce a product, (like wood working as opposed to hiking) what does that tell us about ourselves? Hobbies reveal a lot about who we are.
Loss could be the topic of a hundred meetings: loss of a loved one, loss of innocents, loss of faith, loss of love, loss of a relationship, loss of money, loss of respect, loss of our youth, and many more. Loss in a man’s life occurs often and each time it places a mark on our souls. How do we heal? How has the experience changed us? These can be emotional meetings because often we have not confronted our losses; we have simply dismissed them as inevitable.
What are the differences between romantic love and philanthropic love? What are the differences between, love, lust and infatuation? For you has love been painful as some poets say or blissful as others claim?
Here is a challenge. Dr. A. G. Luker, a behavioral scientist proclaimed that love did not exist, because it could was not measurable. Try to come up with a working definition for love that is objectively measurable and that everyone agrees on. Doing so will help you examine how each man understands love.
After about a year, it might be time to decide who you are as a group. A way to do this is to write a “Mission Statement”. While these have been over used by organizations when they are trying to motivate folks, a mission statement can be great vehicles for understanding what the group is. This is a huge topic. If you decide to do it, you might work on it over many meetings devoting only part of each meeting to it. There is a lot of information available to help you. Start with a search for “Mission Statement Generators”, or read the reviews on the many books on the topic. Come up with a plan and start your mission.
This topic is the single most sensitive topic in our current society. Men are often measured by how much they make or how much they have. There are a lot of studies about men and money that could be used as a base for discussion. For example, most men believe that if they made 30% more, they would be happy. This is true no matter how much they make. Also, is saving important? When did the men who have savings start saving? Often our attitudes with money started early. The Bible says in 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” Is the “money” or “the love of it” the problem? Do you equate money with power? How do you feel when you give money away? Is winning better with a cash prize? Would you work if you had all the money you wanted? What power does money give and what is it powerless to do?
This is a good meeting near Mother’s Day. There is a line in Robert Bly’s Iron John, where the caged wild man asks the boy to release him. The boy tells The Wildman that he doesn’t know where the key is. The Wildman tells the boy it is under his mother’s pillow where she hide it years ago and instructs him to steel it and let him out. This is where the real adventure begins. The group might want to read the chapter before the meeting. Did your mother lock up the Wildman in you? What kind of a man did she want you to be? Did you meet her expectations? Was she there for you when you needed her? How has the relationship changed over time? What haven’t you told your mother?
Talk about great movies and what you got from them, or watch one.
If you’re a devotee of Joseph Campbell, I need not say much more. If not, consider reading his A Hero with a Thousand Faces, or Iron John by Robert Bly. Mythological tales and fairy stories are filled with symbolic language that helps us see and understand our own journey.
What is nurturing? Generally, it is considered a more feminine attribute than a masculine one. Why is this so? How do we as men define it? I like defining it as: “Providing for another what they need even at one’s own expense.” The typical examples are parents who give up time, sleep, or comfort for the good of a child. A women breast feeds by giving her child nourishment even during circumstances when she is deprived herself. But I’m going to take this one step further. Wouldn’t the greatest act of nurturing be to give up one’s life so that another can live?
In one survey, men said, more often than women, that they were willing to die to save their child, another man’s child, a mother of a child and even the father of a young child. Checking their data against actual events like shipwrecks and other disasters, the researchers found the responses correlated with actions taken by each sex. Men gave up their seats on life boats, passed on life preservers, covered children with their bodies in a storm, died saving children in fires, and went without food, etc. more often than did women. Is there a difference between heroics and nurturing or are they manifestations of the same attribute expressed differently by men and women? How else do men nurture by giving up aspects of their life?
This topic can also be about how were we nurtured or not nurtured and what effects it had on us.
Play was the topic for the seventh meeting and is always a great meeting. The Rules for Good Safe Play and the articles for Men Playing and The Real Winner can be found under the menu for the seventh meeting. (Look under “Starting a Group” for meeting number seven or just click the titles above.)
Everyone brings some meaningful poetry to read, or writes a poem based on a photo clipped from a magazine.
There is so much politics in the world already you may want to avoid it in the group. But if you decide to go for it anyway, remember to use all of the communication guidelines. These topics can get heated and misunderstandings can happen. Remember, everyone wants a better world; the disagreement is how best to get there. Also, remember that so far, no one path has worked all that well and yet the world is still functioning. So everyone must be wrong on some points and right on others. No yelling, these men are your brothers.
This might be a meeting or an event. We have occasionally had events where partners were invited. But you can also simply have everyone bring food to a meeting. Eating together is a primal bonding event. As a variation on this, one night we made an outdoor fire and roasted large chunks of marinated meat on sticks. I’m certain that men a half million years ago would have felt right at home. You should make accommodations for vegetarians.
When you finally get around to talking about procrastination, remember this: one study asserts that one in five people suffer from clinical procrastination. This means to a level that it affects their quality of life, work performance, relationships, etc. (The same criteria that would be applied for clinical depression, alcohol, or drug abuse.) While everyone procrastinates sometimes or about some tasks, more people suffer from clinical procrastination than any other diagnosis. It is often connected with other issues. Is it a symptom, or is it a cause? Is it genetic, a disease, or a character flaw? How do we cope with it? How do you cope with others who constantly procrastinate at work or in their private life?
For most men at the end of their lives they regret not trying more than trying and failing. What do we regret most? How can we avoid future regrets?
Do you practice a religion? What religion were you reared in? Have you changed? If you don’t practice a religion, why not? What do you believe?
This can have so many topic variations; it could be a book on its own. So, I will just include it as I’m sure everyone will be able to think of at least twenty meetings. This could be a topic for a brainstorming meeting. Remember, when dealing with this topic, confidentiality and understanding are especially important.
Some men were shamed as boys and have lived under its shadow throughout their lives. It is the force that prevents them from being authentic. Other men have moral compasses that are out of alignment because they lack the ability to feel shame. Shame can have positive effects on our lives, or we can be captured by its dark side. We need to understand this powerful force. What actions are we rightfully ashamed of and what events have we been wrongly shamed by? How are shame and guilt related in your life?
If you have had siblings, how do you think they have affected you? Birth order and how did you get along as children and how is it different now are good topics. For men who are an only child, did you like it or did you long for siblings?
If you do this at a meeting, make sure everyone enjoys singing, will be accepted at any ability or is comfortable not singing along. Some men, cannot audibly match pitch or follow rhythm, for them being asked to sing can be as uncomfortable as asking a guy who has never played basketball to participate in a pick-up game.
Have every man bring a song that speaks to him or has a particular attachment for him. Another way of doing this meeting is the leader shares the lyrics and music of an artist and time is taken to talk about each song. This works best if the leader provides the lyrics printed out.
In most groups, there will be a variety of spiritual paths that the men are pursuing. These paths can be broader than specific religions. For example, a man might be a Lutheran yet finds meditation to be spiritually enlightening. Design this meeting to discuss the pathways the men are using, what they have investigated and how they work for them. In addition to meditation, they might include prayer, yoga, tantric practice, study, reading, asceticism, psychotropic substances, vision quests, or some of the many mystical practices such as, Kabbalah, Hasidism, Shingon, Tibetan, Zen, Jhana, Christian mysticism, Gnosticism, Vedanta, yoga, Bhakti, Kashmir Shaivism, Sufism, Irfan, or Moksha.
It doesn’t have to be a major league game. We have had great times at our local minor league ballpark. It’s the hotdogs, the cheering, and the camaraderie that bonds men together, not the price of the ticket.
Bly, Campbell and others have written extensively on this topic. Meeting(s) could talk about everything from the wildest things we have done to the wildest things we ever wanted to do. How do we control our Wildman? When do we let him out and when do we restrain him? Do we perceive of our Wildman as dangerous like the Incredible Hulk or playful like Pan? Is he our personification of freedom, or is he representative of a primitive beast? Here our feeling should take front and center, by talking about our Wildman we may discover a lot about who we are.
In our society, many men believe that they are their profession. We learn in school that there are plumbers, mailmen, doctors, and lawyers. We are not told that there are men who practice plumbing, mail delivery, medicine, or law. No wonder we think we are our profession. By taking off our work costumes and leaving our roles behind for a while, we can find out who we are as men. This can be very difficult for some men. For some, the role has been deeply infused. For example, it can be nearly impossible for some priests, ministers, and rabbis to be just another guy with all the failings, joys and fears of a man. Think how hard it would be for a governor or senator. I have observed that if a man believes he has been “called” to his profession; he is more likely to identify himself with that profession than a man who believes he has chosen his profession. Men who have been forced into their work because it was the only job they could get have almost no identification with their profession. Related to this is, what is the difference between a job and a profession?
This could also be addressed using role play. For example one could exaggerate oneself or someone from another profession. Or, one could act as if suddenly unemployed, or barred from practicing one’s profession. How would you introduce yourself when someone asked “What are you?” How would you feel?
Another way to approach this topic: If you were to write something other than your profession on a business card that described who you are, what would it be? You could give out small cards and have everyone design the business card of who they really are. If you did this without a name, put the cards in a hat and drew one out, could the men guess who you are by what you wrote?
Some men are interested in foreign cultures; others are afraid of them. This topic can be interesting when asking, “What cultures (time and place) would you like to have lived in and what ones would you fear to live in?” Maybe we all are a bit xenophilic (attracted to foreign peoples, cultures, or customs) and xenophobic (fearful of foreign peoples, cultures, or customs).
I have read that men have less than ten peak experiences in their lives. Winning a Gold Medal at the Olympics might be one, or perhaps when Pablo Picasso finished Guernica and realized that it was a masterpiece might be another. But typically there are others. These are times when we are so into the experience and so certain of the outcome that we feel immortal. What were some peak moments in each man’s life and why? How was it readjusting back to mortal life? Can we make these moments happen or are they gifts?