1-3 Introduction

Men's group or self-help organization? - It starts with self-care

Do you really want to start a self-help organization, or maybe what you want is a men's group? These are two different things. A men's group helps you to explore personal, emotional and masculine issues, such as family and relationship problems, what it means to be a man, fatherhood issues and so on. It can be a very supportive place; it can be a very challenging place; it can help you go deeper into yourself, to help you develop greater awareness and self-understanding. It can help you find balance, and meaning, and clarify life-goals. (Separate manuals exist that focus on men's groups.)

A men's self-help organization is something else, with the main emphasis on networking and outreach, research, providing referrals and resources, major organizational processes such as finding and organizing volunteers, setting up a phone line, perhaps a newsletter, even a web-page, getting funding. The desire is to support a larger group of men with their own personal issues, men who may want to share support in a men's group setting. A self-help organization can help create that for them.

It might generally be said that going through your own men's group experience would be beneficial if you are intending to set up a men's organization, so you can become familiar with issues and group dynamics, things that will crop up on a regular basis; learning how to debate issues, find compromise, resolve conflicts, maintain cooperation. 'Good-will' will be a large factor in your success; how do you get it? - how do you keep it? Just because we're trying to help men in a common cause doesn't mean that egos and personalities won't get in the way. Crazy, irrational, dysfunctional things may/will happen; someone, a former ally, may end up trying to destroy what's been built. It can be very frustrating, but it can also be very rewarding.

Whatever happens, it is a learning process, there will be valuable life-lessons in the undertaking, and it will probably take you places you can't even imagine.

The place we first start is simple - an idea. A vision. An intention. A goal. Any organization is structured around a particular idea; men will join and support your organization on the basis of the intention you have, that vision will bind the organization together.

If you are reading this then you probably already have a good idea of what it is you want to do with your organization. The next step is to define specifically what your intention or goal is. That might be a series of statements written out in point form. Try to use plain language, that is balanced and expressed in positive terms, rather than the negative. Try to focus on the issue of equality, and what that means for your organization. Try not to discount women's issues in the same area, acknowledge them but note that your intention is to support men in ways similar to the support women are already receiving. This may mean research and discussion. Try to find out if there are any similar organizations already focussing in your area of interest. Maybe they've already done this organizational work, could use your help and can more effectively help you reach your goal if you joined them than if you started your own organization. Alternatively, you may learn from and guide each other.

How many people do you need to create your vision? What skills are required? What tasks are envisaged? Job descriptions? You can probably find a few volunteers, even if you have to resort to advertising your intent and asking for participants. This is where outreach begins, recruitment!

In so far as you can, build inclusivity into your organization; openness in intent, action and debate helps to create a healthier organization with fewer internal issues and a longer lifespan. It may take longer to find agreement with people coming from diverse backgrounds and issues, but when you move together your strength multiplies. Allow the vision and passion of others to be a part of the generating energy for your organization. Include women; they may become your best allies… But men's support groups will need to be exclusively male for masculine therapeutic reasons.

We are all volunteers and deserve acknowledgement and respect for the contributions we make. Life, our own issues, may call any of us a way at any moment; let's not blame each other, instead remember and thank every man for his contribution, both at his coming and going, thus we always try to keep the door open.

A big part of the coherency of the organization you establish will depend on 'self-care'. Volunteer outfits tend to demand much, and our passion leads us in, but with jobs/careers and families to juggle, we must be wary of burn-out. This is supposed to be, and can be, a good, even pleasant experience. Yes there are serious issues we're addressing, but don't lose your sense of humour, or balance. Be wary of the judgemental attitude: "You have to do it this way or you're all f**ked"; variations include: "My way or the highway"… This is a recipe for ill-will and separation. There are many routes to the same destination. Compromise will be required and displays growth and maturity. But coming back to self-care: try to keep a balance - work - rest - play; don't sacrifice all your off time for 'the cause'. Time away helps you to renew and get invigorated. Look at where your boundaries are; what are you not attending to that deserves some of your time? Family, hobby, exercise? Good self-care helps you to keep your energy up, your vision clear, and keeps you juiced for the long haul. It's ok to take time for yourself; in fact, it's essential! The people who will burn-out will be those with the poorest boundaries and those who lose their sense of balance. Often they will blame someone else for their feelings - and may have contributed a considerable amount to the organization - but "you didn't do this…" or "lacked vision…" i.e. "you screwed up and that's why I'm leaving…". Sacrifice breeds resentment. I believe good self-care ultimately determines the longevity of an organization. It may not look like it, but we're helping our organization by saying to each other "it's ok to take time off!" - even if an 'essential' task doesn't get done this month… After all, this so-called 'essential' task wasn't being done before we started our organization. And as we grow and develop, contingencies will be put in place for the 'essential' tasks. But for now it will depend on individual men, and their time and energy, and sometimes we will screw-up.

Sometimes people will go away for no apparent reason, with or without an explanation. A healthy perspective on this is that they are taking care of themselves, and this is how they know how to do it, and may not understand it themselves, but are just responding to an inner drive or impulse. We're all working on our issues, and all of us will be coming from a more or less dysfunctional background.

The organization we form could stay at a simple level - a few friends who try to make a difference, address an issue in their area or town. Or it could grow, attracting many others and this simple grouping evolves into a registered society that obtains fund raising benefits for itself, has a definite structure - directors - board meetings - and can sell memberships, or a charitable organization that receives tax benefits and promotes itself and its work on a national scale. In all cases the fundamentals will stay the same -

The next sections proceed from these fundamentals, which are developed and explored in greater depth.