May 9, 2010

Posted by in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Circle Game

The Circle Game

I often get asked, “What exactly is this men’s thing you are involved in?”  While it is not easy to explain because being in a circle seems to mean different things to different men, the best way I can sum it up is to say that being part of a men’s team provides me with a space where I get to be inspired and empowered to pursue and realize my passion.  So let me break that down.

At 53 passion is a tough thing to come by.  Between coping with MS and providing for a family, sometimes just getting through the day is an accomplishment.  But being able to find something I am passionate about is critical to that dance. And the inspiration for that passion comes from unexpected places.  Sometimes it comes from a man reminding me of the impact I had on another man, sometimes it comes from digging deep and understanding what is important to me and sometimes it is just witnessing another man getting out of his own way.

As for the empowerment that is equally important.  I mean let’s face it left to my own devices I’d just veg out in front of the TV watching Lost on Tivo over and over until I fully understood what was going on.  I was somewhat taken a back to realize that I have been getting together with a circle of men for 16 years now.  The circles have changed.  I don’t think I have stood in a circle with the same man for more than about six years.   The circles change even if men still stick around MDI we think it is important to shake things up so that no one gets too comfortable. 


 Our circles serve a simple function, relationship without the burden of friendship.  By that I mean we have this connection.  We get each other but aren’t burden by this fear that if we say something it will damage the relationship or hurt someone’s feelings.  Confidentiality is critical to what we do.  What happens in our circles stays there.  And what happens in those circles sometimes is pretty explosive.  I have often heard men tell me that they are blown away by how close men seem to get to coming to blows at a meeting and then just hug it out at the end of the meeting.  We can do that because men come to the circle without an agenda.

Except to inspire and empower one another to pursue our passions and celebrate when we actually realize them.

 On its face, the concept of ensuring that you have a strong circle of men in your life might seem basic and mundane. However, it is the nature and make up of that circle that is critical. Notice that I did not say get a strong circle of friends. I am not talking about friends and I am not talking about joining a support group. I am talking about stepping into a circle of men with whom you seem to have nothing in common but who you are confident you can trust to both watch your back and tell you all the things you really rather not hear.

If you think about it, most of your friends won’t really call you on your shit. If they do, they are opening the door for you to be honest with them. Most long term friendships have too much time invested to willingly risk the relationship at that level. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen but it is rare. The other problem is your friends probably share your interests and have a certain emotional investment in the dynamics of your life and shared relationship. So often times what you hear is really more about what is being triggered for them by the whole experience. You need to hear from a man who has nothing invested in your problem.

So why not a support group? First off, just the phrase makes me cringe. While support groups might be a great place to feel like you are not alone and get some honest feedback and an occasional slap in the face, rarely will the other members be willing to go out on a limb for you. And again if they do, it is because in saving you they are trying to save themselves. If anything, the relationship amongst the members is usually just one of talking rather than doing and the commitment is more to the process than the individual.

So, why a Rat Pack? The image of hanging around Vegas, smoking cigarettes and chasing after chorus girls is seductive but what allowed the “Rat Pack” to transcend the image of being the embodiment of the good life was in their diversity. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. A New Jersey crooner with ties to the mob, a black man who been street dancing since he was two, a Midwestern son of immigrants, a WASP and a Jew. On paper their bond didn’t make sense but their friendship was a brotherhood built on common experiences, not common religion, race or ethnicity.

A cousin of mine, an expert in group behavior, told me about a group of men he knew in Philadelphia who played basketball on the same court every Saturday for years. They included a brain surgeon, a handyman, a school teacher, a former professional ball player, and a businessman. Playing together was so important to them that some were known to have flown across a continent in order to make the game, even if it meant flying back the next day. I can relate because I had the same dynamic with a bunch of guys I played football with for years in Central Park on Sunday mornings. I was so committed to that game that I’d show up in the rain or with a killer hang over (often times heaving between downs). It was such a “regular” part of my week that when I was getting ready to move to Colorado I had second thoughts because I thought, “what about my Sunday game?” My real concern wasn’t about missing a year of playing but wondering if it would be the same when I came back. Why? Well whether we like to acknowledge it or not, men are creatures of habit and we find comfort in the familiarity of ritual. For those men in Philly and me those weekly games became a sacred ritual. From the grunts of recognition to the post game slap on the back or for the deeply committed, post-game beer, it did not matter that for some of these men, I knew nothing more about them than their last name. (And for the record, after a year hiatus, I came back to New York. I got back into the games and was welcomed back but strangely the year off made it feel different and I didn’t feel as committed.

There is some truth to the old Cheers theme song about wanting to go somewhere “where everybody knows your name.” But as I got older, I realized that I needed more than the comfort of being “known” by name. I wanted to get to know me. To do that I needed to find an environment where men weren’t interested in either placating me or molding me into their image. I needed to find a bunch of men who on paper I had nothing in common with.
So right about now you might be asking why would I want to hang out with men with whom I have no shared interests. Well for me, I have found the joy in life not to be in striving to fit into someone else’s image of perfection. The joy is in marching to the rhythm of my own song. If it is mine, no one else can really tell me that I’ve got it all wrong. They may make suggestions on some of the moves but it is uniquely mine. The beauty of diversity in a men’s circle is if I’ve been dancing the two-step my whole life I might get smitten by watching someone else bump and grind. If someone else was trying to teach me the steps I might get self conscious and turn them off but in watching, I might be inspired to try. Which brings us back to the Rat Pack analogy. Sammy, Frank, Dean, Peter and Joey all were dancing to different rhythms but they let themselves dabble in each other’s world.

So why not be Sinatra? Well that’s a topic for another post. I just think that you never want to be the “guy”. I just never got the payoff in that. Anyone who ever watched the movie Animal House quickly came to appreciate that the guys having all the fun were not the tight assed Deltas striving to emulate the all-American male and certainly not Greg Marmalard, the president of the student body, but those guys at the end of the couch at the frat party who no one really expected anything out of. That is were the infinite possibility lies.

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