Liebert-Kuration (I)

How to talk to men

Kick off! This is the first one of three articles which will be published in october curated by Juliane Liebert. Starting with an essay of the irish author Conor Creighton. It’s about being a man – and how to deal with this fact. Illustration by: Làszlò Antal.

Illustration: Làszlò Antal

A funny thing happens to most men as we get older. We become isolated and lonely, and then our biology, conscious that as an organism we’re really not up to much unless we’re up to it with other organisms, begins to shut down. Men die, on average, seven years younger than woman. When I was growing up we proudly claimed that we died earlier because we fought in wars, worked in mines, did hard physical work like boat-building and stone-breaking, you know. But I grew up in the 90s. I don’t have a single school friend who went to war. And after school, when we went on to get jobs, the closest we got to the physical strain of working in mines was assembling IKEA furniture at the weekend with a hangover.

The reason men die younger than women is because we’re lonely. The reason animals die in zoos younger than animals in the wild is because they’re lonely too. The reason we’re lonely is after a certain age, we stop making new friends, and we stop making friends because we don’t know how to talk to each other. The problem is compounded because men, much like the frog in the slowly heating water, don’t realise something is wrong with us until something is very wrong with us.

Funny but I recently discovered that this isn’t true. Frogs are one of the smartest tailless amphibians around, maybe even smarter than us men, and they most certainly do jump out of the water when it gets hot. Frogs have no problem admitting they’re in pain.
We men can’t always say that.
Here’s an example: I once limped around for two weeks on a very painful, broken foot because I didn’t want to go to hospital for what I thought was a simple sprain, and didn’t want to bother anyone. Similarly, I’ve come through the biggest part of my life swallowing sadness rather than allowing it to get to the point of tears. Crying is not like riding a bicycle. When you’ve forgotten how to do it, you don’t have a clue how you’ll ever do it again.
Men do not have at hand the same level of insight into their emotional lives as women because our culture works aggressively to dislocate us from these insights. We’re taught from the youngest of ages that it’s unmanly to voice emotional or painful issues, while for women, discussing, or even attempting to discuss distress are as natural as drinking water when you’re thirsty.

My god, they did a number on us. I don’t think it’s too much of a simplification to say that if we are to survive as a species on this planet then we need to get men talking to each other. The dominator culture that has characterized masculinity for the past few thousand years has been a culture where power is strength and feelings are a weakness, and this is why, brothers and sisters, humankind is hurtling towards a watery, firey death.

At the moment, the most important decisions regarding the future of our species are being made by men who are clearly suffering from covert depression and emotional paralysis. If you already felt love why would you need to feel so much power? I like Buckminster Fuller. He wrote about the future. He had this to say:

“We are blessed with technology that would be indescribable to our forefathers. We have the wherewithal, the know-it-all to feed everybody, clothe everybody, and give every human on Earth a chance. We know now what we could never have known before — that we now have the option for all humanity to make it successfully on this planet in this lifetime. Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment.”

I caught a glimpse of utopia last week. Utopia was in Treptower Park, in a small patch of grass just beyond the firing range of the frisbees. This was a men’s talking circle. Eight of us, some DJs, some musicians, some regular job folks and some hippies in Thai pants who I expertly socially-distanced from.

I’m joking. But only a little. We gathered for about two hours to practise something that most men don’t know how to do, and most women do easily: share your emotions with strangers. We talked about our love lives, our lack of love lives. We talked about our jobs and our lack of jobs. We talked about our parents, even our dads – a third rail topic for any man. And we talked about sex, not in a quantitive, bragging way but in a kind appreciative emotionally intelligent way i.e. we talked about sex like a woman was actually involved in it too.

Ok, I’ll come clean, someone did burn a little palo santo and there might have been a couple of mentions of ‘the universe’ but those two esoteric cameos aside, this was just an opportunity for straight-up, no holds barred, talking. If you’re reading this and thinking ‘so what’, then you’re probably a gay man or a woman. The reality is, most men don’t talk this way ever. We don’t do vulnerability because we’ve been taught from the youngest age that vulnerability will get us into trouble.

Frederick Douglass, the African-American activist and civil-rights leader, said “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” He was right of course. It is easier, but it’s not impossible. All you need to do is teach men, how to talk to men.
I don’t know if a few sensitive men sat in a circle in a park is enough to alter the course of masculine history. At the first sight of rain, we would have probably all run for it. But nothing will change on this planet, and by change I really mean, get better, until we can teach men how to talk to men.

==> Text: Conor Creighton

Conor Creighton is an Irish author. He also teaches meditation. He has been running and attending men’s groups, around the world, for about five years. The groups are open to homosexual, transexual and anyone who identifies as male, although largely these groups attract more mainstream incarnations of men. They’re often the men who’ve thought least about what it means to be one.

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