» Redefining, Reframing and Expanding What It Is “To Be a Man”
Redefining, Reframing and Expanding What It Is “To Be a Man”

Joe Ehrmann’s philosophy of redefining and reframing what it is to be a man, as exhibited during his TED talk in Baltimore, dovetails perfectly with the mission of M3. He identifies the current cultural consequences of the phrase “To be a man” as the most detrimental in society today. The damage of this message comes from the times and situations in which it is delivered; when a boy or man is expressing himself in ways that are considered unmanly. He is told to stop acting that way; stop the emotions, stop the tears; don’t be a mama’s boy; don’t be a sissy.

Almost every man in America receives messages at an early age that in order to be accepted, he has to “disconnect his head from his heart.” How painful it is for men not to be permitted to live out of the fullness of who they are but being compelled to conform to living out of an extremely limited and incomplete emotional range.

The acceptable range does not match the actual range; it is a range in which so called softer or feminine emotions are unacceptable. These taboo feelings get pushed down out of sight, as men learn society’s demands that they deny significant portions of themselves. Ehrmann considers violence a demonstration of unexpressed grief; resulting from this massive repression of emotion by men; which also manifests itself as covert depression.

Men Mentoring Men (M3) seeks to fully embrace a dramatically different and expanded definition of what it is “To be a man.”

Men Mentoring Men (M3) seeks to fully embrace a dramatically different and expanded definition of what it is “To be a man.” One that includes the artistic, gentle, loving parts of oneself; the Lover as well as the Warrior within each of us. The Lover, not merely as an expresser of romantic love, but one who passionately pursues living their own personal version of life and masculinity; one that seeks expression of the sum total of who they are and is not confined within the culture’s mandate.

My observation is that all men are affected by the demands of the stereotypical male proving grounds outlined by Ehrmann; of the ball field, the bedroom and the billfold and the inherent harmful lies that they hold. That the degree of one’s manliness is falsely measured by one’s athletic ability, sexual prowess and the degree of economic success achieved. In M3 we discover that this is a false model.

Ehrmann says research indicates that 80% of men suffer from some form of Alexithymia; a condition characterized by the inability to identify and describe emotions in the self. The core characteristics include a dysfunction of emotional awareness, social attachment and interpersonal relations. He simply describes it as the inability to put emotions and feelings into words.

M3 fosters the development of relationships by providing a safe place for men to do exactly that; to speak with other men about what is really happening in their lives, including how they feel about what they are experiencing.

Through listening to others, men come to realize the commonality of their emotions and that they are not so different from other men. Men gain the experience of relating to one another cooperatively and compassionately outside of, and in addition to, their typical male relationships characterized by comparison and competition.

No man shames another man and what is expressed within the group stays within the group.

In order to maintain safety in M3 there are only 2 foundational rules; no man shames another man and what is expressed within the group stays within the group. The rule that no man shames another man is incredibly powerful.

As Brené Brown’s research reveals, men’s greatest fear is being seen as weak and not measuring up, as derogatively expressed as being a “pussy”. Men will go to extreme lengths to avoid the pain associated with this fear.

In M3 men learn to develop compassion for themselves and by extension compassion for others by accepting parts of themselves that the prevailing wisdom suggests they must deny. One does not have to choose between being powerful or soft but has the capacity to express tenderness and strength. The behaviors are far from mutually exclusive and oftentimes they are most powerfully used in conjunction with one another.

When men reveal more of who they are, including those aspects of themselves of which they are ashamed, they reduce the power of shame in their lives. They are more likely to offer healing than contribute to society’s pyscho-social problems. Men step into living fuller more wholehearted lives and are significantly more likely to positively impact those with whom they come in contact.

It is impossible to develop intimate and meaningful relationships with others if we remain in denial and shame of significant parts of who we are.

It is impossible to develop intimate and meaningful relationships with others if we remain in denial and shame of significant parts of who we are. Ehrmann asserts that life is all about relationships; what kind of partner am I, what kind of father, what kind of son, what kind of friend?

Through letting go of the strong cultural associations of what it is “To be a man,” men learn to love others more completely and more honestly. They develop the capacity to develop more intimate and complete relationships. Men increase their ability to express their love for others, including other men, in ways that are not contaminated with homophobia.

Ehrmann uses the laboratory of sports through which to examine the current state of masculinity in this country and sports coaching as a delivery mechanism for transforming the definition of what it means “To be man.” Through its meetings, workshops and social events, M3 offers another mechanism through which men can redefine, reframe and expand their concept of masculinity: “Helping Men Lead Happier and Healthier Lives.” Efforts like these have the power to transform our world.

Robert Hackman

February 2015

  • Dr. Janice Presser

    Bravo, Robert, and all men who are embracing their wholeness. Denial of self always leads to denial of others – including the women of the world. Reclaiming it reclaims us all.