A group composed entirely by men for the purpose of supporting the growth and development of men faces some issues peculiar to itself. Here are some things we have learned from experience.

  1. Containment and Sacred Space. For men to really get into deep places with each other it is necessary to create a special kind of atmosphere. We call this sacred space. This is a space where men feel safe enough to delve into frightening things. Sacred space requires building a leak proof container. You can only "cook" if the ingredients aren't leaking out. Seriously consider the need for the following ingredients to ensure that you build a leak proof container:

    The space the group meets in must be free from any possible intrusion. No spouses, children, phones, etc. Dogs are alright and can even add a special atmosphere.

    All members should attend all meetings. This is especially true for the first few meetings while the group is still forming. It will be impossible for the group to develop firm ground if the members change at each meeting.

    Begin and end meetings at your agreed upon times. Ending on time greatly helps to increase the containment of your vessel. If you find that things only start to get rolling near the end, do not let the meeting go overtime without deciding as a group to do so.

    Any rituals or special observances used by the group should be kept secret, known only to members.

    No guests, unless they are considering joining the group and carefully consider whether you want to allow new members at all.

    People should not describe or repeat what members do or say in the group to non-members.

    People should not discuss really special, highly charged, profound, or painful events that occur in the group with non-members.

  2. Talking and Doing. While the main mode for self-help groups is talking, men often need to do things together. Men can experience a deep sense of intimacy working together without talking at all. Seriously consider spending time as a group doing things as well as time talking with each other. Time spent close to nature, such as camping, sailing or hiking creates a special kind of energy. Time spent doing physical work or play also creates a special energy.
  3. Moving Past Fear. Men fear each other, probably with good reason. For thousands of years, men who were not of the same clan were potential enemies. For some, this fear is unconscious. Being unconscious makes it a more powerful inhibitor to developing close relationships. Robert Bly and Michael Meade have observed that men do not begin to trust one another until an opportunity for violence has passed untaken. Violence here means not only physical, but emotional and mental. Probably the most frequent type of violence men do to one another in our society is public ridicule and humiliation. Trust is not going to get built if everyone is safely hiding behind some mask or in some cave. An opportunity for violence must pass untaken. Members will have to risk and put themselves in situations where they might get hurt in order for the group to develop trust. When members take a risk, they will have to feel supported by others, or distrust will develop.
  4. Assigning Responsibility. Experience shows that simply meeting regularly and hoping that something significant will happen doesn't work. The group needs to program activities for itself but it can become a real drag if you spend too much group time discussing what to do. A common solution is to assign one member responsibility for leading the next meeting. Leading a meeting does not have to be an elaborate task. Simply providing some way to get people talking together, in a way they normally don't, works great. Support those who take responsibility for programming activities and those who risk designing new and "weird" activities.
  5. Learning to Appreciate the Irrational and Intuitive. Men, for the most part, tend to err on the side of being too concrete, rational and pragmatic in their thinking. We tend to naively take things at "face value". We tend to focus on what a person actually says and not what they mean to say. We tend to believe that rational, logical thinking is the only kind that matters. We have highly developed heads but we can't feel our hearts. To plunge into men's work requires that you start looking squarely at all the irrational things you do in your life, and learn to love them. The point is not to try and take control and make everything rational, but to allow the irrational, intuitive side of you back into the picture, to balance head and heart, thinking and feeling, to start paying attention to the meaning behind appearances, and to start listening to your inner knowing.