Soul of the Work #3: Intercultural Competency

September 12, 2015

in Community News, Recent News, Soul of the Work

by Ed Gurowitz

In the ManKind Project USA (MKP USA) we create a world where men act on their individual and shared responsibility to the future of humanity; not some men, but all men.

At the heart of the MKP ethos is a commitment to meet men where they are, and to welcome them with all they bring. This commitment brings with it the necessity that we, as individuals and as an institution, continue to develop intercultural competency so that we can create welcoming and safe personal growth opportunities for all kinds of men.

MKP was founded in a specific cultural context, at a particular time. The three founders were all living near Milwaukee, WI in the early 1980’s and were white, heterosexual men. Over the last 30 years, MKP has changed dramatically, growing more culturally diverse with respect to race, sexual orientation, age, class, ability, geographic cultural differences, and more, but the majority of men in MKP are still white, heterosexual men.

For more than a decade, the ManKind Project has been actively committed to breaking down barriers, however unintended, that exist for men from target groups to participate in our work. We have created a “Power, Privilege, and Difference” training (sometimes called “Isms and Issues”) designed to raise men’s awareness of our collective or cultural shadows. These are unspoken, often unconscious group agreements that we make to elevate the value, power, or status of one group of people at the expense of another or others, who are oppressed. The goal of the I&I is to develop self-awareness and encourage men to be conscious and practicing “shadow watchers.” As with our personal shadows (the parts of ourselves we consciously or unconsciously hide from the world), the goal is not to eliminate the shadow (which is probably not possible) but to keep it out in front of us so that we have choices rather than being controlled by unconscious biases, beliefs, and behaviors.

Once we are aware of our cultural shadows, we have an opportunity to recognize the gold in the differences among men. When we operate from principles of equality, mutual respect, acceptance, and seeking to understand each other’s’ unique world, we can truly be brothers and provide an example for the world of what is possible.

A key part of intercultural competency is not sugar-coating the shadows or denying their existence (“I’m color blind – I just see people, not races”) and calling BS when we do. We are accountable for our shadows – they are not our fault, and they are not an occasion for shaming or blaming, but at the same time, the projections they generate do real harm – they oppress the target of the shadow belief. A target is a group or individual who, as an impact of cultural and institutional shadows, have limited access to resources, status, and/or power. Target groups are based on, for example; race, gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, age, socioeconomic status, relative physical or mental abilities, the list goes on. The relative privilege of non-target groups (men vis a vis women, whites vis a vis blacks, young vis a vis old) is unearned – it is an accident of birth rather than a reflection of accomplishment.

Ongoing participation in the ManKind Project carries with it the responsibility to be accountable for behaviors that come from our cultural shadows and for the impact of these behaviors on others. When we avoid contact with targeted groups, when we deny differences or their significance, when we unconsciously defend the actions of non-targets, when we dysfunctionally rescue members of targeted groups or blame the victim, we are violating core values of our movement. On the other hand, when we listen closely to the voices of those in target groups, when we build trust and connection, explore and learn from differences, stand beside each other to defy societal oppression, and become allies with our targeted brothers and sisters, we strengthen ourselves, the ManKind Project, and the world.

One protocol many of our ManKind Project men’s support groups (I-Groups) and other MKP gatherings have adopted comes from the Visions (http://visions-inc.org/) model of multicultural learning. We use “oops” and “ouch.” While the name sounds whimsical, the process is important.

When a man in an MKP circle catches himself speaking or acting in a way that reflects a cultural shadow, he doesn’t wait to be called on it (or hope he won’t be), but calls “oops” on himself, owns his unintended impact, and cleans it up. On the target side, when a man experiences an oppressive impact of someone’s speaking or behavior, he says “ouch,” the action stops, and the men explore the impact and intentions of the communications, to be accountable for it and to learn from it. Oops and ouch is an effective process to bring to your I-Group and other gatherings. If you don’t experience any oops or ouches, it may very well be time to look at making your group more diverse.

Join MKP in making the world a place where men not only welcome diversity, but create it, and celebrate it.

Till next time, Aho!

Ed G.

Ed G.

Till next time, Aho!
Out with Gratitude,
Ed Gurowitz

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The ManKind Project is a global nonprofit [501 (c)(3)] charitable organization that conducts challenging and highly rewarding programs for men at every stage of life. The ManKind Project supports a global network of peer-facilitated men's groups where men mentor men through the passages of their lives. The ManKind Project empowers men to missions of service, supporting men to make a difference in the lives of men, women, and children around the world. We help men through any transition, men at all levels of success, men facing almost any challenge. Our flagship training, described by many as the most powerful men's training available, is the New Warrior Training Adventure. The ManKind Project (MKP) is not affiliated with any religious practice or political party. We strive to be increasingly inclusive and culturally aware.