March 28, 2019
By Paul Gemme
I was touched by the responses I received following the last newsletter on Vulnerability and I was deeply touched by one response in particular. The man had disclosed his difficulty having friends and the one friend he was closest too he found it difficult being totally truthful with. He recognized this shadow piece of himself and vowed to do better but the energy I felt from him was shame. I felt myself being drawn to him for his courage and willingness to share a piece of shadow and trusting me enough to disclose it. This is how we own it and heal it.
Several days prior to his reaching out I had been musing about what’s important to me when building trusted friendships. These traits may not be the same for you but they are important for me, not only for what I value in men but the way I want to develop myself.
In some ways I’m very old school. My dad always tried to instill in me that my word is my bond. Unfortunately, I didn’t always live up to that before I got sober; addicts are usually way out of integrity. I’d like to believe I live up to it today.
In the late 1990’s, my wife Maureen and I bought forty acres of land with a cabin in the Berkshires with just a hand shake and no money down, no interest, and no banks involved. We saw a piece of land with an old hand written For Sale sign nailed to a tree. We ventured into the woods and it wasn’t long before we fell in love with the property and the potential it held. After contacting the owner he agreed to meet us there and together we walked the property.
At the time Maureen and I didn’t have the finances to purchase the land but we felt such a connection to it we knew it was ours already. We also felt a connection to the owner because of his openness and honest disclosures. He told us he had bought the property with his fiancé and the original plan was to build and live there together. What was heartbreaking was she left him and it was painful to hold on to the piece because every time he paid taxes it just reminded him of his loss. We shared with him that we had no money but presented him with a plan to pay for the property. In the short afternoon we spent together we managed to forge a bond of trust by being honest with each other. We agreed to pay off the land in five years if he agreed to no interest and no down payment. (We honored his trust by paying it off in four.) We shook hands on the deal and when his attorney learned of the agreement he was livid and tried to convince the owner to get a down payment plus interest. His response to the attorney: “It’s a done deal, we shook on it. Just write it up.”
This is what I call integrity. For me there are other forms of integrity as equally important for building trust, especially when doing men’s work.
For example, I find connection with men who are willing to share their vulnerability, especially in a group setting. If I’m with a man who is witnessing other men being vulnerable but is unwilling to go there himself, then that smacks of voyeurism and shadow magician for me, and I have difficulty completely trusting that man. Shadow Magicians gather info to gain power for themselves without disclosing their own vulnerability, and disclosure is where true, mature power lies.
I also can feel safe when a man honors confidentiality. If they don’t, that’s more shadow Magician. When my wife asks, “How was your men’s group?” My answer is always “fine,” or “challenging,” nothing more, unless it’s about what I’m in process with. I never share about the men in the group.
It’s important for me to have men in my life who see my goodness and love me in spite of my shadow, and are willing to confront my blind spots in a loving supportive way. It’s OK if a man gets angry with me if that’s what comes up, but I need men who are committed to staying in relationship, working through it, and not disappearing. In turn, I need men in my life that can hear me, and can validate my feelings, even if they don’t agree with me if I confront them.
I’ve seen too many men cop a resentment and experience too much fear of conflict to confront a man in a healthy way. It’s easier for them to disappear rather than step into the fear and work towards resolution and create a trusting relationship. Sometimes you just need a third party to help you navigate the conflict, so you don’t betray yourself by going into avoidance.
It’s also easier for me to trust men who don’t talk shit about other men. It’s OK to have a reaction about a man’s behavior, but separate the behavior from the person. It’s important to understand that we’re all trying to find our way home and we’re going to make mistakes and we may be at different stages of our growth. We are all inherently good at our core. Men who talk shit about other men leave me wondering what piece of their shadow they’re projecting and I’m left feeling curious about what his understanding of men’s work is, and of his commitment to healing with men.
I need men in my life who do what they say they’re going to do, who honor their commitments and more importantly have enough self-worth to honor their “no.” Many of us had our ‘NO’ squashed as kids and it’s important to reclaim our choice.
Some questions to reflect on:
What qualities do you seek that allows you to feel a man is trustworthy?
Do you hold yourself accountable to live up to those qualities?
Do you initiate or engage in gossip, without being direct with the person being spoken about?
How do you react when you are held accountable?
When in conflict with a man, do you use fight or flight, rather than working to be complete?
How strong is your word?
How vulnerable are you vs how much do you withhold or deny?
In the spirit of brotherhood.
Paul Gemme ( firstname.lastname@example.org) and the COMEGA OC