Monday evening last week was a special time. A friend invited me to the first ever ManTalks event in Calgary. ManTalks is the brain-child of Connor Beaton of Vancouver, where it has been thriving for a number of years. ManTalks has since branched out to Toronto, Atlanta and now Calgary.
ManTalks provides “a space for the modern man to evolve through authenticity, community, purpose & accountability. Join us in creating a movement.” It’s mission statement is ambitious but simple. A portion of it reads:
“We believe being a man is not only about speaking your truth, but living it every day. We believe being a man isn’t always about being the strongest, smartest or best looking, it is about being the best possible version of YOU.”
Their events bring men together to connect with one another so they can be challenged, grow, excel and break through their own perceived limitations. The event on Monday certainly did that.
It kicked off with my friend Matthew Ball sharing the story of being devastated by a divorce, struggling with the darkness of being alone and rising as one committed to helping other men deal effectively with similar feelings. He talked about his learnings that have led him to start a coaching practice for men dealing with divorce and write a book, both of the same name – She’s Gone, Move On.
Next up was Bruce Holstead, who started his presentation with “Hi. My name is Bruce and I’m a drug addict. He shared his story of being on the streets, and many returns to what he calls “the hole”, the place of despair that would hold him in a continual cycle of struggle with addiction. He’s been clean for years, and now is Director of Operations with Fresh Start Recovery Centre, where he willingly jumps in “the hole” with others to support them in moving forward.
The evening was wrapped up by Mike Shaw, an accomplished freestyle skier and high performance coach who had his journey suddenly interrupted when he dislocated his neck, paralyzing himself from the neck down. His ability to share many high and low points on his journey back was very inspirational to the crowd. Mike is now Director of Athletics at SafeStart’s Personal Safety & Performance training where his life learnings are at the disposal of others.
Between speakers, we were all challenged by Connor to practice vulnerability and authenticity. After Matthew’s talk we were invited to make eye contact with a stranger and then to share a story about our greatest loss in life, and what we learned from it. After Bruce’s talk, we were asked to connect with someone else and to lay out something that we have been avoiding dealing with in our life, and what we would need to do to take it on.
As often happens with powerful experiences, we share them. I did that on Friday night when out for dinner with a couple I’d never met before. My wife knew the couple through some work she had done with them, and we had planned to get together for quite a while. The husband of the couple has lived with a brain tumor for 22 years. He’s been told multiple times to get his affairs in order. And here he is with us still. He’s in his fifties and not yet ready to retire because in his words “I never thought I would get the chance”.
Here I was again sitting with a man sharing his amazing story and completely vulnerable to me. He was also very interested in ManTalks and pressed me to connect him with the group so he can share it more broadly.
A group of six men, including me, have had a men’s group for years where we share our personal challenges and fears quite openly, finding strength in the support of other men who admire our courage for sharing. ManTalks is just a bigger forum for men to do that.
The energy in both our small “Bumper Club” and ManTalks is powerful and healing. It emboldens each of us to want to “be a better me”. The question that this whole movement begs of me is what makes this so difficult for us to do such that we need strength in numbers in order to engage?
Don’t get me wrong. These groups are awesome and necessary. But what would it take for all of us testosterone driven, stoic, suck-it-up-tough-guys to let go of that and just say “I’m not perfect, and I’m okay with asking for help.”
Think of all the jokes in the world about this exact topic. For example: why was Moses wandering through the desert for 40 years? Because men refuse to ask for directions!
There are acronyms created for our inability to even use help provided to us. RTFM … read the f*@%ing manual … addresses men’s unknown need to go it alone to figure things out.
Somehow it is just hard for us to be seen by others as needing help. As if we’ve failed, let someone down, allowed bad things to happen or been seen as imperfect just because we need help. Men see themselves as protectors and even small events where we can’t go it alone can be very difficult.
In the time of saber tooth tigers, and marauding rival tribes this might have made some sense. Today, when threats of that magnitude are rarely seen in our lives, we use our same protective instincts to guard our self-image.
The implications can be far-reaching as seen in the stories of the ManTalks speakers. Divorce takes you down a path of self-loathing. Drug addictions steal your ability to be yourself. A tendency to take risks to prove our courage may put us in situations that can and do cause serious harm.
I share a belief that domestic violence perpetrated by males comes from this same place: men completely overreact to their own perceptions of being “not good enough” in the eyes of a woman they are attracted to. They are protecting their self-image, albeit in a completely excessive and unacceptable way.
What if all men were to embrace a simple creed: I am imperfect and I can’t change that. But I can strive every day to be a slightly better me than I was yesterday. And the same thing tomorrow. I will do that by sharing my imperfections with others and by asking for help to grow.
How might the world change then?