In my last post you’ll remember I laid out my take on the Gender Wars that have so blighted humanity for so long. I ended (due to space constraints) with a teaser: there is a better way and I can describe it for you… next time! Well here we are, wonder no longer.
Now I can describe this “radically different approach” in 3 steps, it’s that simple but it isn’t easy. In fact it’s tough, it takes time and a lot of courage and commitment – but it is possible and it is worth it.
Here they are, my ‘3 steps to heaven’:
Step One: Stand Down!
As women and men we need to lower our weapons, step back from the front lines of the gender war and check ourselves into specialist ‘hospitals’ to get our wounds looked at.
That means we let today’s rocks fall from our hands. Even if rocks are still raining down on us. Because we’ve realised that today, retaliation is not the most important thing, retaliation can wait. Instead we’re going to find a ‘hospital’ (I’ll explain all about these in a bit), a place where we can be with our own kind (men if you identify as a man, women if you identify as a woman).
But not the ones who just want to bang on about how terrible the other sex are, no, we need to find some who believe there’s a better way, the ones who have declared a cease-fire or better. Among these calmer, more positive people, we can sit down and be honest.
Tell your story, reveal your wounds, express how you feel, in your guts – especially about the ‘enemy’. Don’t hold back. Here you won’t get applauded or egged on to greater resentment but you will be heard, accepted, and allowed to be where you are at, right now.
Then, listen. Listen to these others like you, as they share their experiences of being alive as a woman, a man, transgender, gay, straight… Listen to their stories of love and loss, of woundings and healings, of sudden insights and slow, hard-won learnings. Their experiments in bitterness and in letting go, their raging, their grieving, their learning to see themselves and others, their “coming to love again but like a refugee” Listen with your heart and your belly, and give your comparing, classifying, calculating mind the night off.
You see pretending we don’t have resentments and scores to settle, won’t cut it. Hiding our wounds just means gangrene later. I’m sorry, I really am but there’s no quick fix, no easy way round this: we have to acknowledge and face our wounds, and we have to go and look for the parts of ourselves that got sent into exile when we were kids, and became our ‘shadow’.
These things are difficult, painful and scary and they are necessary if we want to heal, if we want to come close to anything like being a whole human being. The trick is not to try to do it alone. Join a group who are on the same journey, seek out trained, experienced guides and facilitators for the tricky, scary bits. The groups exist, the guides are out there[i]. I know, I’ve walked the man’s form of this path myself. It’s worth it.
“OK, what, exactly, do you mean by ‘hospitals’? Where are these groups and guides? Give me website addresses, contact details…”
Understood. My metaphor of the hospital refers to the organisations that exist for women, and others for men, in order to facilitate small groups that meet regularly as places of safety, solidarity, empathy, trust, camaraderie, and confidentiality – with the goal of becoming grounded, whole, heathy, whole-hearted, fully-alive human beings.
Not by merging into some inoffensive, homogeneous politically correct mush! No, by becoming more fully who we are! Men diving more deeply into healthy masculinity. Women plunging into the depths of healthy femininity. And exploring that dash of ying in your yang: the feminine within men, the masculine within women, the Anima and the Animus. What I’m talking about, is doing the hard inner work to become the best, the most we can be: amazing men, awesome women.
I’ve been a participant in one of these ‘hospital’ groups for nearly 7 years now and it’s one of the best and most transformative things in my life. It’s gritty and it’s real, and it’s brilliant.
“OK, Who? Where? How?” I’ll focus my answer on the UK but most of these organisations are multinational now:
For women, try the Red Tent – www.redtenttemple.org or Tree Sisters – www.treesisters.org Clearly, as a man, I have limited first-hand experience of these groups but I have read and heard very good things, from people I trust.
For men, I’d suggest The Male Journey – www.malejourney.org.uk or the ManKind Project – www.uk.mkp.org
Check them out (and the many others that doubtless exist but which I have less knowledge of) and find the one that chimes best with you. Just don’t choose one that will reinforce your current sense of injustice, victimhood or superiority, instead commit to one that looks like it will provide a safe enough container for you to courageously clean out your wounds and bravely question your assumptions. By ‘safe enough’ I mean:
- Absolute confidentiality
- A shared vulnerability (avoid ‘gurus’ who guard their own privacy while you spill your guts)
- A proven process for safe sharing and listening (my favourite is The Way of Council*)
- No judging, no shaming, no trying to ‘fix’ each other
If you find a good one (and commit to it) it will become one of the best things in your life and will help you transform yourself, to the benefit of everyone who knows you.
Step Two: Truth and Reconciliation
In Step Two, women and men who have spent enough time in Step One, meet together under ‘safe enough’ conditions (see above), to continue healing their wounds and to begin learning to understand, appreciate and respect each other.
Having done the hard work of Step One, these men and women are able to sit down together without hostility, without looking for the flaws in the other, without seeking to ‘win’. This is the necessary precondition for beginning the hard and challenging work of Step Two.
That work is to bring into the Council Circle, the residue of those hurts that we perceive to be the fault of the other sex. To bring them honestly, fully, in all their rawness, and lay them on the ground in the centre of the circle. In doing so we honour them, we acknowledge their reality and the damage done but crucially, we do not hurl them at the other sex, and we do not blame personally, those of that sex, who are present.
This creates a completely new kind of space in which the wounded ones (i.e. everyone, in their turn) can be heard, have their suffering acknowledged, be wept for and with (by both ‘sides’ – of course there are no sides in the circle). The Way of Council process is vital here: I know of no other method capable of holding this much intensity of emotion without confrontation, without blame. It must be skilfully facilitated. It must be lovingly and courageously held. Trust me, I do not underestimate the challenges here: many of the hurts that will be brought were caused by terrible wrongs, domestic violence, all kinds of child-abuse, rape (of women, of men, straight, gay, trans), the list goes on. And so the levels of trust and vulnerability required will be huge. This work is not for the faint-hearted. But I do not underestimate the strength of the process either, or the power of women and men of goodwill, deeply meeting each other.
Once the hurts have been voiced, heard and held in this way, we can move on to a less intense, less charged but no less valuable round: Removing Misunderstandings.
Here, there will be much laughter, many “Really? Wow” moments, as the parties take turns to remove a little of the mystery that shrouds them from the other. It would spoil the fun to remove all mystery and I doubt that’s even possible but there are so many (often tragic) cases where one human being does something in the sincere belief that it will help or allure or reveal to the significant person in their lives – and it has the exact opposite effect. Sometimes we go on doing this for decades because we simply don’t know what else to do, or how to ask.
In the safety and the structure of Council we can offer lots of: “You know when we say this, and you think we mean that? Well we really don’t, we mean this!” or “You know when we do this, and you think it means we want that? We so don’t, what we’re actually hoping for is this!”
And we can ask the questions that have always genuinely baffled us: “Why do women never…? Why do men always seem to….?” In time, we can move on to curiosity mingled with admiration: “How do you do that? How do women do that ‘undefended strength’ thing, where you let the emotional armour fall, transcending the self-defensive instinct in order to stay open, to stay connected, to go on loving – when you know full well the risks of loss and hurt?”
If we have done the earlier work well, we may even reach a stage of mutual honouring, where we call out each other’s finest qualities and name and lament the injustices done to the other, (perhaps the ones that they couldn’t see themselves, that had become ‘part of the landscape’).
Can you imagine? The women calling out to the men “What we love and value and honour in our brothers is…” – the men declaring “We bow low in respect and gratitude to our sisters for the feminine gifts of…”
And wouldn’t that be amazing? And right and proper? Because men are amazing – when they are healed and whole they are fucking amazing. And women are amazing – whole and healed they are breath-taking and magnificent.
And we are differently amazing: we are so complimentary, you’re strong where I’ve got nothing; I’m strong where you’re weak; you know when I’m stuck in analysis-paralysis; I’m clear when you’re diffused. And it’s MEANT to be that way, that’s our true strength and creativity and beauty as humans: being diverse, and fabulous, together. Do you think it would ever occur to an alpha female wolf to go off with all the other female wolves in the pack and try to survive sans males? Or vice versa? No, it wouldn’t – they have the innate wisdom of creatures that have never lost their wildness. The pack survives because it is a unified, social, totality with every wolf dedicated to the greater cause: the pack[ii] .
I really believe that we haven’t seen the half of what humans are capable of yet, because we haven’t yet learned to fully collaborate (certainly not on a large scale). I tell you, the right side of Step Two looks a pretty damn exciting place to be.
When Steps One and Two are sufficiently complete, the world will look very different for all involved. A new way of being together will be possible. A pretty extraordinary team of people will be sitting right there. A team ready for Step Three.
But Step Three is for another day, another blog. For now let’s focus on getting enough of us humans to the end of Step Two, coz that would look a lot like “peace on Earth, goodwill to all”, wouldn’t it?
Let’s dare to dream of it – and graft[iii] for it,
 From “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen
[i] Facilitators of shadow work, wound work, and other healing and ‘wholing’ work:
Animas Valley Institute: www.animas.org Wild Earth: www.wildearth.org.uk
Counselling & Psychotherapy: http://www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk/therapists
Relevant books (warning: these may change your life): Soulcraft, Bill Plotkin; My Name is Chellis & I’m in Recovery From Western Civilisation, Chellis Glendinning; Wild Mind, Bill Plotkin; Adam’s Return, Richard Rohr; The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
[ii] (If you’ve never studied wolves you are missing out, everything you’ve been told about them I wrong! Forget Liam Neeson in The Grey, read Wolf Within by Shaun Ellis!)
[iii] Just to be clear, where I’m from ‘to graft’ means to work hard, like a miner or a steelworker or someone giving birth.