Who The Hell Is Howard Spierer?
In the last few years, I have spent a lot of time with men. All voluntary. It is not from time spent in jail or the military. I’m not a pro athlete and I am not gay. I have just come to embrace the notion that the best way to get a handle on who I am and what I want is to put myself in a circle with other men, the vast majority of whom are total strangers and who on the surface seem to have no shared interests with me. The entries that follow are inspired by and the by product of the collective wisdom I have garnered from these men over the years.
Time and again, standing in such circles with men who I have come to refer to as “my boys” has allowed certain truths to bubble to the surface and resonate with me. I’d like to share some of those truths here. I have found that when I am not concerned with impressing anyone or looking good, and when I have no need to be right, I am more receptive to hearing and considering these truths and incorporating some of them into my life. The great thing about universal truth is it stands up fairly well against trendy fads and newly discovered secrets to happiness and success. The downside is that sometimes it is so blatantly obvious that I turn a blind eye to it. Kind of like that curb I step over every day on my way to work until I get distracted in the moment and trip and fall on my face.
So if these truths are so universal, are they guaranteed to work for everyone? Who knows? Will they work for you? They might, but that is not the thing. Think of the stuff that shows up here as being like tofu. Not everyone likes it, but eating a lot of it can’t hurt you a lick. And if truth be told, the more you eat, the healthier you are likely to be. Regardless of how you feel about the notion of considering someone else’s advice or embracing the collective wisdom of men, I can tell you that stepping into that process will challenge the way you have chosen to look at the world and your place in it. I know this because standing in a circle of men prepared me for a rather unexpected kick in the head.
In 1994, what seems like a lifetrime ago, I decided to go off for a weekend called the Sterling Men’s Weekend with a hundred or so men who I did not know a thing about. At first, I was a little reticent about it and kept finding myself too busy to fully commit. Afterall, I was at the top of my game as a litigation attorney at one of the most prestigious law firms in America. I was well paid and although I worked hard, I found time to dabble in some creative writing and other things. In fact, the local ABC affiliate had featured me in a series they broadcast on avoiding professional burnout. Two of my plays had recently been produced Off-Broadway and a screenplay I co-written was garnering some interest in Hollywood. I owned a small weekly newspaper called Actors Resources that provided practical tips and casting notices for aspiring actors and I sat on the boards of a few not-for-profits dedicated to doing good in the world. A few years earlier I had provided counseling to a group of Long Island moms as they developed and grew Mother’s Voices into a national AIDS awareness organization that became the first such group to meet with President Clinton at the White House. I was in my fifth year of marriage to a wonderful woman, a professional in her own right. She kept things fresh by doing things like surprising me for my birthday with a live roast on cable TV and getting me backstage at the Democratic Convention where I got to hang out with the Secret Service guys and a slew of celebrities. We lived in a huge loft in Chelsea, knew lots of people and periodically threw huge parties. By any measure, life was good.
In truth though, something was missing. I certainly couldn’t put my finger on it at the time but I had come to live a life bigger than myself and had gotten caught up in my own press. I was buying into my own bullshit and many of my friendships were tenuous at best. So when I ran into an actor, who had been in one of my plays and was now back to waiting tables, and he suggested to me that I do this thing that he described as something akin to “open heart surgery without the anesthesia,” the competitive, adventurous side of me bit. It was a good thing.
Fast forward four years. I am out in Boulder, Colorado participating in the annual National Institute of Trial Advocacy two-week intensive course — a boot camp for trial lawyers. I was in my element. Playing lawyer during the day and drinking at night. On the weekends I went rock climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park and white water rafting on the Arkansas River. Towards the end of the two weeks, my body started to feel a little funky. I was getting weird stomach cramps and spells of vertigo. I initially put it off to too much tequila and stopped drinking. But things got worse. Within a week I had lost all feeling in my right leg and arm. I couldn’t stand and I was having excruciating headaches. It took a while for the doctors to figure out what was going on but I was eventually diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. MS is a neurological disease for which there is no cure. For most people it slowly strips away their nervous system wrecking havoc on their body. Things I took for granted like walking and going to the bathroom became adventures.
It wasn’t long before I was forced to re-examine a lot of what I had taken for granted. Jumping out of airplanes and white water rafting down Class V rivers didn’t seem like terribly rational endeavors to someone who was finding it a challenge to walk down the steps. I reluctantly gave up being an extremist and traded in the rush of putting myself at physical risk for the much more uncomfortable environment of getting to know myself and actually making an effort to get to know others. Of course the first reaction most people have when confronted by a challenge is to reject what you know. So, I began to move away from the concept of man as an emotionally challenged Neanderthal that had been drummed into my head at my Men’s Weekend and began to undertake a search to connect to my heart and discover my purpose. I dabbled a bit with some courses offered by Landmark Education and had a wonderful time playing their game but found that both the co-ed environment and emphasis on authenticity seemed strangely inauthentic to me and kept me from getting to the core of who I was. I participated in the New Warrior Adventure Weekend offered by the Mankind Project and while I was humbled by the effective ability of those men to cleanly delve into the wounds men had carried with them all their lives, I was a little taken aback to discover I wasn’t hurting and I wasn’t looking to heal anything. I also felt uneasy with how uneasy they seemed to feel about having a good testosterone laden fight every now and then. So I went back to my men and decided to begin listening a little bit differently to what they had been telling me.
Together we began to create our own organization, Men’s Divisions International. It borrowed a little bit from every discipline we had each been exposed to and wasn’t wedded to any one way of being or thinking. The organization was driven by a simple construct: provide men the inspiration and support to win in their lives. With some of these men, I have helped create a weekend experience for men called the Legacy Discovery and have led men attending many such weekends throughout North America. I have witnessed men embracing who they are; celebrating how they got there; and mapping out a future that will ensure that they leave behind a powerful and positive legacy. The process is not always pretty but they all leave with a smile and sense of peace that I just don’t think is as readily attainable elsewhere. I have come to believe that truly knowing oneself is a wonderful and empowering experience. That means really embracing what it is that you are passionate about. And really taking ownership of what it is that makes you great – for most men no small task– as well as all not shying away from or ignoring those warts you’d prefer to gloss over. My hope is that this website will give you some insight into how to do all that.
A lot of what you read here may seem vaguely familiar. That is because good advice tends to stand the test of time. It becomes part and parcel of our culture. So why regurgitate it here? Throughout history mankind has transferred essential truths through story telling. Traditionally, wise men shared their knowledge through assemblies and through discussions of essential truths and in the moment those words and ideas were subject to challenge and confirmation by the broader circle. Today, the mass media is the principal source of those stories which teach us about our culture. Unfortunately, the stories as told obscure some very basic truths and fail to provide any forum for challenge or dialogue. When there is debate it often comes down to who can scream the loudest or with the most venom. As a result the concept of what it takes to be a man is relayed through images distorted in the service of fantasy that offers a shorthand for what it takes to overcome the challenges in life and simplifies the struggles involved, giving us a feeling of immediate enjoyment, but leaving little of lasting value.
In putting together this blog, my hope is to lay out thoughts about what it means to be a man in a way that you may have never really considered before. Some of what I have put out might make you nervous, even fearful. You might get pissed off at the way some ideas are presented. I hope so because I’d like to shake you out of your slumber as I was shaken myself. My purpose is to get you off the treadmill of life as you know it and to give you a taste of what it means to play in a bigger and cleaner game.
I’d like to take those notions of what you have come to accept as the definitions and burdens of manhood, bring them front and center and whack you upside the head with them. The notion that, “all men were created equal” is a laudatory thought but in truth that is not reality. We are not one size fits all. Some of us are macho, some are sensitive, and some are little bit of both. I don’t necessarily believe that you can learn to transition from one to another by flipping a switch or following some pre-determined regimen. For that reason I urge that you avoid doing something simply because you read it here. Do what makes sense to you. Not in your head but in your gut. And if you choose not to follow any of the advice that shows up here, you owe it to yourself to understand why. Simply, come to know yourself and the reasons for your choices.
So right about now, you are probably thinking, do I really need to read someone else’s theory on how to tie my shoe? Only if you keep tripping over your own shoelaces. How many times do you pass the sign that says “Wet Paint” and find yourself touching it just to make sure?
Maybe you’re thinking, “My life is just fine. I don’t need fixing.” I am not looking to fix anybody. If anything I am looking to offer men a chance to celebrate in their success and sanity – even if they have trouble considering themselves successful or sane — rather than shirking from that. I spent a long time feeling guilty about being happy and uneasy about being successful. There really is a way to dance without taunting. I’d like to share some of those dance steps.
Mens Meeting Ritual- A Presentation to the Celebrant’s Institute
To get a better sense of how we use a mens’ circle, click on the attached video. I speak to this at around the 10 minute mark — so, hang in there.