Monday, May 3, 2010

Tony's Blog: Sticks and Stones are Easy

“We can call each other “nigga”, but a white guy can’t. So why do we call women “bitches”…
…just because we hear them call each other that?”
 This was Jamal’s epiphany…It was a question that I had written in my notes in preparation for our monthly ECHO session; our straight talk-no holds barred-tell the truth with whatever language you need to express yourself-gender specific-deep discussion group.

This night, for the first time since we started ECHO three years ago, I had come with an agenda. Although our last few sessions had been powerful, I felt we were starting to lose some respect for the process. Some of the guys were showing up late and treating our gatherings almost like “kick backs”. So, I started the meeting with my concerns. This led to a very honest conversation about all kinds of topics related to how we respect each other as men and how we honor the process that we have all come to look forward to - this process we call ECHO. I was impressed by both the honesty and openness in the room. We have created our own little culture that fosters that.
On my list of things to discuss was my discomfort with the reference to women as “bitches”. Difficult territory to venture into, as in this venue we don’t preach and that’s a hot button topic that makes me want to preach. We are here to provide a forum for young men to feel safe to express themselves without feeling judged. So, I had planned to bring it up, not as the leader of the group, but just as another guy in the room sharing his feelings and hoping for an “agreement” rather than imposing a “rule”. However the previous items I had brought up took so long to work through that I decided it would have to wait for next time. Well, sometimes the powers of the other world just intervene and I just gotta sit back and say “damn”. As I opened the floor for anyone to speak one of the young men talked about his relationship with his girlfriend. One thing led to another and we were in the discussion about women and the b-word was flyin’ around the room. Then Jamal spoke up and shared his on the spot epiphany, speaking as if he had lifted the words from the pages of my notes. Then another young man, sounding forlorn, spoke up to talk about how just barely out of his teens he no longer enjoys, nor sees the point of sex. Another muttered, “I thought I was the only one”. They were transitioning to the need for more purpose and real passion with women. They were looking for mentoring. Then something beautiful occurred. The older men showed up as “elders” in a way that I dream of. They didn’t preach or judge. They related…and spontaneous mentoring began to occur as they told their stories of healing through their primary relationships with women. Their words, tone and presentation demonstrated a love and respect for the women of their lives, and a delight in their own journey of self-discovery through relationship…
…and the young men listened.
The typical male chest thumping was interrupted by a bit of sweet wisdom. In this hyper masculine culture that our boys come from, one hears daily about icons of sport, celebrity and political leadership acting in disrespect to the commitments of their marriages and relationships. Where are the role models for our young men to show them something better, more meaningful and fulfilling?  Friday night they were in the room with me. Men told of how learning to honor one’s self as a man becomes the key to learning to honor women and all that they mean to our lives. It is our inner-relationship that we must heal first. Paradoxically, healing our inner-relationship is often informed by the lessons of our external relationships with women.

I feel we made some serious progress that night. The b word will still be used, but I think with less frequency. More importantly, talk of love competed successfully with talk of conquest. Seeds were planted and epiphanies were discovered. We ventured into the conversation that men can only have with other men and only if trust is present. It is in this forum, this kind of honest give and take between generations that we will rediscover a path to cultural healing.



Tony LoRe
Youth Mentoring Connection/Urban Oasis

Boarding House Mentors

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