Our dads weren’t there for us, so we were all raised by women, and we can’t learn about manhood from women, so we have to learn about manhood from each other.
~ Robert Bly
In MKP, when we come together in groups, we sit in circle. When I’ve travelled in Southern Africa I’ve noticed that even in villages where there are all the modern conveniences, where the people work at 21st Century jobs, drive cars, etc., when the village or groups in the village come together, they sit in circle, and I’ve found that that’s true in almost all indigenous cultures.
For thousands of years, men have sat in circle. Men’s circles are where men face themselves openly and honestly in the presence of other men in order to cultivate and deepen the sense of meaning, purpose, intimacy, truth, connection and direction in their lives. In a circle every man can see, sense, and feel the other men. There is no hierarchy – all men are equal in the circle and can have an equal voice.
In his book A Circle of Men, MKP founder Bill Kauth talks about his first experience with a men’s group back in the 1970’s:
I got high. No drugs, no physical exertion, no new places, no meditative spaces. Just the joy of being with men and having the safety of enough loving acceptance to be myself.
Men come to MKP with a wide variety of experience with other men. Some have already discovered the joy of sitting in circle; for others, it’s a strange experience at first. I came to the program at an advanced age, with a lot of training and experience in personal development. I was, earlier in my life, a psychotherapist with a specialty in group and family therapy, so I’d sat in a lot of groups and had a lot of “book knowledge” about group dynamics, social psychology, and the like, but I was unprepared for what I experienced when I sat in an I Group before the weekend and then sat in the weekend itself.
I don’t think I’ve ever been around a group that was composed solely of men for such an extended period of time. I’d been on athletic teams and I’d gone to Boy Scout camp, but those were as a boy. I’d been in a fraternity in college, but we rarely sat together for longer than a meal, and the atmosphere workshop not what Bill called “the safety of enough loving acceptance to be myself.” So to be in isolation with 80 or so men for 48 hours was a new experience, and our sharing the experience of the NWTA kept deepening that new experience. Listening to other men share their pain, their wounds, and their joys and sharing the same myself led to a growing sense of wonder.
Some years ago, in my work as a management consultant, I happened to be facilitating a group that consisted solely of men who were middle- to upper managers in a corporation. My co-facilitator was a woman, the only one of her gender in the room. As we worked with this group of 30 or so middle-aged white men (for the most part), my colleague remarked to me about the constant stream of jovial insults that were going on. You know what I mean – men teasing each other about their baldness or being overweight, or slow on the uptake or whatever. No one was reacting or getting insulted, the overall atmosphere was one of good-natured ribbing, but my female colleague was getting more and more bothered by it and once she called it to my attention I noticed two things: first, I was absolutely unconscious of it – for me, it was just “the way things are” when men get together. Second, now that I was aware of it, I was uncomfortable with it also. So we put it to group – what was their experience of it? At first we got the expected replies – “we don’t mean anything by it,” “it’s all in good fun,” etc., but finally one man said “You know, I hate to sound like a poor sport, but it often hurts my feelings.”
After that brave man spoke his truth, the floodgates opened and man after man owned that he didn’t like it either. In the end they made a commitment to stop, and created an “oops jar” where, if a man slipped back into the insulting banter he put a dollar into the jar.
That’s the magic of the circle – it’s a place where men can speak their truth, be vulnerable, air their pain, and find out that their brothers have shared their experience and are there for them. That’s the magic of MKP – brotherhood.