Metro Vancouver's third men's group summit took place on January 15th, 2017 and was organised and hosted for a second year by Tristan. Due to an increased number of attendees, a larger venue had to be found. Kieron Sweeney made available a public room in the building of his residence.
Groups and organisations that were represented were: Awakened Brothers, B.C. Men's Resource Centre, B.C. Society For Male Survivors Of Sexual Abuse, Canadian Association For Equality (CAFE), Coquitlam Men's Shed, Mankind Project, Manology, Men In The Mirror, The Men's Initiative, Men's Group Vancouver, MenTOR (run by WINGS), Mythic Nature, Reinless, Rolling Thunder Tribe (an umbrella of 4 groups), Unfolding Authenticty, VancouverMensGroups.org, Young Men's Adventure Weekend
Topic 1: Methods to deepen group conversations
A men’s group (or any such gatherings) might, at times, feel that their meeting is not really emotionally intimate, that the discussion remains superficial. This could especially be true for a new group, where trust is not yet established.
To transition to such a point of sharing it is useful to have some techniques to loosen up, to elevate the level of safety and start examining the participants’ lives more closely.
- A stupid soccer game; guys banging into each other changes the energy
- Ask the group a probing question
- Have the more experienced men set the tone
- Sit silently together for a while and remind the men to be fully present
- Affirm men that the meeting is entirely confidential
- Create breakout groups; have men share personal matters with 1 or 2 others
- Address unresolved friction within the group
Topic 2: Generational cohorts
Despite that there are unifying characteristics of men from any generation, each cohort has its own needs for and expectations of men’s work, and therefore its language and approach may need to be adjusted throughout the years.
Millennials could be less armoured than some previous generations as a result of the increased efforts to prevent bullying in schools. Children now learn early on about emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills (such as conflict resolution.)
Although it is okay to draw inspiration of all the old initiation ways, the twelve to eighteen year-olds might not care whatsoever about archetypes and mythology and respond better to an action-based exercised, teamwork.
Because young men are less reserved to get in touch with their feelings, this can promote the willingness of older men (without experience) to also open up and process things.
Topic 3: Initiations
As boys grow up, they have to surrender to the power of parents, the educational system, the government. Rites of passage then, are rituals facilitated by older men meant to mark, inspire and demonstrate that a transition into manhood means that the boy can have his own life, be the decision maker, define who he really is, discover his powers and responsibilities, and give a place to his suffering in his world view. (Women go through this same process.)
Such initiations are not a real part of our culture. Boys grow up without the guidance of men or without the guidance of even just a community. They merely ascend with an ideology of individualism and mistake that as autonomy. Furthermore, the men with real power that boys do see might be the ones who are also doing a lot of harm.
We need to repair society’s sense of community. Even mature men have lost a component of togetherness. The sadness about this disconnection could be at the core of a lot of other fears of men (and women) and, in a search for safety, drives us to be protective. This, in turn, takes us only further away from connection, which is where the safety really lies.
Some young men might already be good at being autonomous and would benefit more from an initiation into relationships with other men that aims to ease the dominance hierarchy and imbue a mutual sense of safety and accountability.
Topic 4: Where to go from here
At this third summit, which grew in size each year, the concept has gradually changed from a men’s group summit to a men’s summit. The time has come to consider whether the attendees could develop a whole layer of institutional support for men and boys with some sort of coordinating body, a central group that could function as a clearing house of ideas and connections.
At the very least a fourth summit should take place.
- A summit that takes all day, perhaps including an overnight stay, perhaps a full weekend. Not just to learn from each other, but also just to be men.
- A variety of formats employing various forms of intelligence; attendees could each facilitate a 30 minute discussion, process group, hands-on exercise, ritual or workshop (either in a sequence for all or some parallel.)
- Better ways to learn about the summit attendees and their resources. A more dedicated time to actually network; possibly ‘speed dating’ rounds where everybody talks to everybody. An opportunity to explore whether and how to cross-refer, draw on each other’s wisdom and programs, learn from each other on an ongoing basis.
- Unstructured brainstorm sessions or some other leaderless method to give birth to ideas spontaneously and organically. Possibly like a theatre improvisation (someone starts something, others join in.)
- Think tank working groups.
- Being at service. Work together on something that is purposeful (serve the homeless for an afternoon downtown, etcetera.)
- Create a full picture of the resource provisions: avoid duplication of services and more effectively identify gaps that exist in the community.
- Exchange knowledge about funding (grants, etcetera.)
- Buddying up with another attendee. Connect throughout the summit and/or throughout the year. Announce your intention, include each other in decision-making processes.
- Make use of the intersection with the attendees from the academic world.
- Have individual (men’s) groups visit each other throughout the year; have guest facilitators.
- Jointly promote the general concept of men’s work.
Other Noteworthy remarks
- Faced with plight, men can feel they are in sharp contrast to what they were taught men are supposed to be like: not vulnerable. It should then be conveyed that, in actuality, it is okay to be vulnerable when going through a painful process. It even attests of men at their very best, and paves the way for personal honesty, empathy, respect.
- Promoting talk groups for men in hardship could have effect when the message is: “we need your help” as opposed to “we offer help,” presumably because it eliminates the shame of attending and appeals to men’s drive to be useful.
- Removing a man’s emotional baggage might bring new uncertainty. A notable stage in a recovery is when he, freed of his troubles, starts to feel he misses a substantial part of his identity. The right response would be to explain that, despite this new emptiness, it still is a good place to be in. Now he can constructing a sense of self that comes from within, as opposed to from painful life circumstances.
Notes about organising the 2017 summit
The e-mail invitation and Facebook event posting read something like:
Representatives from groups in and around Vancouver are invited. If you would like to attend, please contact Tristan [via Facebook or at email@example.com] no later than January 8th. The meeting address will be given in the reply.
Discussion topics may be submitted beforehand or brought up during the meeting itself.
You are welcome to forward this invitation to other men's groups.
See you hopefully in January,―Tristan
The Facebook event was posted in October 2016 onto the Vancouver Men's Network Facebook group, which was launched after the summit in 2016. It had some 65 members at the time, of which 20 saw the event post. Including the individuals who were not part of the Vancouver Men's Network Facebook group, a total of 27 people were directly invited. 10 Marked themselves as 'interested,' and 8 as 'going.' Despite that event post mentioned specifically that marking oneself as such did not suffice to actually RSVP, only a few took further action until they were reminded to do so 11 days before the event.
54 Men were invited in October 2016 via e-mail, phone or verbally. (18 Of those were also a member on the facebook group.) Over the next months at least another 4 men received the invitation forwarded by someone.
14 Men confirmed their attendance early on. After a reminder e-mail sent 11 days before the summit to those who had not yet responded (28 via e-mail, 11 via Facebook), another 10 were added to the list.
Over the entire registration period, 16 men explicitly declined, either because they were not interested or were not available on the planned day. 24 Men who received a personal invitation did not respond at all.
Of the 24 expected attendees, 3 cancelled, 1 thought it was the following week, and 1 did not show up, resulting in a total of 19 men present at the summit.