- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

Not everyone thinks the "sensitive male" concept has been good for men. Some believe it has gone too far and taken true manliness along with it. At least that is how the ManKind Project's founders see it.
Created in 1985 by Ron Hering, Bill Kauth and Rich Tosi, the ManKind Project is a men's network based on the idea that the absence of traditional masculine rites of passage slaying a bear, for example has created a void.
Jim Underwood, at-large member of the group's board of directors, fears the concept behind the ManKind Project with 27 centers spread across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand may be difficult to explain.
He shies away from buzzwords such as "self-help" or "the men's movement" to describe the group because he doesn't want to resurrect what he refers to as late-night TV satire that portrays men's groups as "a bunch of silly guys sitting around in the woods and beating on drums and getting all, 'I love you, man,'" he said.
Drums or not, cultures worldwide have had rites of passage initiating boys into manhood. But the ManKind Project leaders said such traditions fell by the wayside, leaving each man to figure out manhood for himself.
The ManKind Project aims to help men "reclaim the 'sacred masculine' … through initiation, training and action in the world," its mission statement says.
The "sacred masculine" includes qualities like leadership and wisdom and remembering how to play.
In the 1950s, the ideal man was aggressive, liked sports, never cried and always provided, the group's leaders said. By the '90s, the "sensitive man" became popular. He is the ponytailed poet, the stay-at-home dad, the man who brags about being "in touch with his feminine side."
But the "sacred masculine" ought not change with the times, said Curtis Mitchell, chairman of the ManKind Project.
To properly integrate such qualities as strength and sensitivity, he said, each man requires a transformation process one that will usher him from the psyche of a boy to one of a man.
Though many modern men manage this through the military or team sports, some grown males who find society has not taught them to be men turn to the ManKind Project.
More than 10,000 men, including 1,600 in the Washington area, have completed the group's New Warrior Training Adventure weekends, says Erick Hoopes, center administrator for the ManKind Project of Greater Washington.
During these weekends, where the primary goal is to peel men away from their everyday realities, men participate in games and discussions.
"You can't look at your life for what is right with it and what is wrong with it without being separated from everything that is going on in it," Mr. Hoopes said.
During the warrior training, members may be asked to pretend to slay a bear or a lion. The toughness needed to confront a beast may bring up difficulties men have with confronting life's problems, the leaders say.
"You are deliberately, intentionally trying to create tension so that [men] have to look at something that they don't want to look at," Mr. Underwood said.
Once they complete this weekend training, participants can re-enter society as "new warriors" men who have achieved proper balance between their life-giving, protective character aspects and their naturally destructive traits.
David Rose, center director of the ManKind Project Greater Washington, explained the three levels of initiation:
The "descent," in which a man is encouraged to face his fears and any mind-sets that hinder him from being honest with himself.
The "ordeal." "It is impractical to make a man slay a bear or a lion," Mr. Rose said, so group members simulate the tribal ritual in which a man finds a sense of accomplishment after struggle.
The "homecoming," a graduation ceremony where men stand before their loved ones to be "welcomed into the community" as their newly balanced selves.
While members will discuss the philosophy behind initiation and the "sacred masculine," the specific events of the New Warrior Training Adventures are closely held secrets.
Whether any of this training is truly effective is anyone's guess.
Glenn E. Good, associate professor of the educational school in counseling psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is doubtful initiations like those in the ManKind Project are necessary for a man's psyche.
"I am in support of the idea that it is worthwhile for men to take a look at what it means to be a man and to be masculine," he said, adding that such traditions are "often culture-specific."
He sees value in initiation rites like the Jewish faith's bar mitzvah, but he is confident men will become adults without that.
"I am not sure the initiationism is crucial, but I do think that actively getting together and talking and sharing support is important," Mr. Good said.
Each weekend warrior develops a "personal mission of service" to clearly define his mission in life, which in many cases leads him into community service, particularly in the area of mentoring.
Charlie Borden of the Minnesota ManKind Project works closely with Men to Boys, a network of men integrating the initiation process for adolescent boys.
Jim Hurley and Robert Terzian of the ManKind Project of Greater Washington work with prison inmates to help them find their own "sacred masculine" and missions in life.
Others volunteer their time working with veterans in a program called the Bamboo Bridge.
"They treat it as an expression of the meaning of life," Mr. Mitchell said. "They are getting out of that rut that says that 'The only thing that matters in life is me.'"
New Warrior Training graduates are refocusing their childish sentiments into systems of sentiments that are appropriate for adults, Mr. Mitchell said.
"It has to do with community focus, taking care of elders and behaving in a mature way to focus on someone other than yourself."

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