by Stephen Simmer
Often, I hear a man say that he must first heal himself and his family before he devotes mission energy to the wider world. It is as if he needs to build up a reservoir of power, energy, happiness and love. When he and his family have had enough, then he will consider acts of service in the world. Once we gorge ourselves on the turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, we will wrap up the leftovers and bones and offer them to the hungry people in the world.
In my opinion, mission isn’t about giving what I don’t need. It’s not spare change. It’s not giving the books away that I no longer want. Mission is about giving what I can’t live without–my blood, my essence, my best. It’s giving what I can’t have enough of myself. It’s not something that happens last, when all my other needs are satisfied. It happens first–it’s what I can’t wait to do when I get out of bed in the morning.
Strangely, this doesn’t lead to depletion. Happiness can’t be saved up in tanks, like oil. Happiness radiates, and spreads naturally to others. It’s not a zero-sum game, with only so much happiness to divide between humans. Happiness actually increases when I share it with others. Service to others or to a cause greater than oneself results in a more durable happiness than the pursuit of egocentric pleasure, according to research done by Martin Seligman.
I encourage every man to read Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, a book that describes the gift economy (a book reference given to me by my warrior brother Charlie Laurel, which I now pass on to you). The commodity economy we are familiar with is an aberration in human history. It has only been operating for a few centuries. 99% of humans have lived in a gift economy. In a commodity economy, we are taught to save, to accumulate a big pile of wealth, so that we will be richer than others. In a gift economy, if I receive a gift, there is a tacit obligation to keep it circulating. I don’t repay the debt by giving something back to the original donor. Instead, I give to someone else who might need or appreciate the gift. In a gift economy, if a man gives me a chicken, I don’t keep it to myself and add it to my coop. When I receive a gift, there is a sacred expectation that I need to keep it circulating. I give the eggs to others. If the hen has chicks, I give the chicks away. Or I offer the hen I have received to another person. In the gift economy, property is treated like air: I don’t just suck air in and accumulate it indefinitely like a bloated human balloon. I am free to breathe it in, take in its benefits, then breathe it back into the world. It’s not mine. The chicken came to me, and now the chicken goes. In the commodity economy, what is created is individual wealth. In the gift economy, the result is community. We are all linked by invisible connections due to the gifts that have passed between us.
So we–all of us, you and I, and the men in your I-group–received a gift at our training. One of the beautiful things we all know is that the founders–Hering, Kauth, and Tosi–built this thing called the NWTA, then gave it away. To us. And now there is an obligation to breathe this air back into the world, to pass the gift along. One way we do this is to invite other men to the training, to pass our gift along that way. To me, that is obviously important, and I hope men continue to do this. But to me, that’s not enough. The purpose of MKP, in my judgment, is not to get other people to join our club. The purpose is to change the world. We will never initiate every man in the world, no matter how many open circles we run, no matter how many men of color we invite. We will always be a select, privileged few. But I believe that every man who finishes the training is potentially a broadcasting tower, and can broadcast waves of transformed energy into the world. And that is where my mission and your mission and the missions of the men in your I-group come into play. But often, our missions get put on the shelf with our high school track trophy and model airplanes and gather dust. We take the mission down off the shelf and dust it off every once in a while. We learn to recite it at men’s circles, on the rare occasion when someone asks. We memorize it, but don’t learn it by heart. We don’t live it. If we are broadcasting towers and our missions are the select frequency of our broadcasts, we don’t turn on the power.
Recently, we have heard with regularity about MKP’s financial and organizational troubles. I was pleased to have a long conversation with Mike Elser recently, and am gratified that he and others have been working very hard to get us on secure financial and organizational footing. We cannot stand or survive without that all-important skeletal structure. But as important as that structure is for our future, my want is that we put muscles, movement, and passion onto the skeleton of MKP. And the muscle & passion of the ManKind Project is mission. Without this, we stagnate and die–not from bankruptcy, but from irrelevance. Without this, imj we are just another men’s club. I believe that our survival–not as an organization, but as a vital social force–depends on our stepping more fervently into mission, and feeling our world-changing muscle. I believe it is time for us to pass on the gift.
New England Mission Coordinator