It’s not about good or bad. It’s about balance.
Sometimes we don’t have to figure it all out. Sometimes we just have to be genuine in our desire to grow and open to receive the wisdom that will change everything for us.
This week was such a time for me.
I’ve been observing some dissonance in my life lately, and it’s primarily centered around one thing; being a man and what that means in today’s world. Raising two boys who are now young men is bringing up questions of what kind of job I did as a father. What kind of example did I provide? Do these young men have the tools to care for themselves, to care for others, to care about the world?
I didn’t know my father’s father very well. My strongest memories of him are when I would go over to his house, and I would be so excited to get dill pickles. And when he died, and I cried about it, my father told me not to cry because he was not a good man. I can’t be entirely sure, but I think my grandfather was abusive to my grandmother. My dad loved his mother deeply.
Sobriety, meditation, exercise, and therapy are collectively helping me re-process this and many other memories with compassion and acceptance. If my grandfather did abuse my grandmother, I obviously can’t condone that. But my grandfather was once a child, and I can only imagine what circumstances he was raised under. What traumatic experiences did he have as a young black man growing up in the southern states of the United States in the 1800s? Trauma passes through us if unchecked.
From the time I was born through sixth grade, my life was mostly influenced by women. My mother’s mother took care of me every day after school. Every teacher I had in elementary school was a woman. The principle of my school was a woman. Our class was a “gifted” class that stayed together for the entirety of our time at PS 279. We were cared for by a group of mothers who made sure we had every resource we needed and did plenty of extracurricular activities together.
The dads got involved around little league games and birthday parties, especially when it was about taking us to see WWF wrestling. The dads were great, but the moms ran things. I have to say; things ran smoothly for the most part, all those years.
When I went to junior high, things changed. I began the never-ending process of being a part of things that men almost unilaterally directed. My headmasters and deans throughout junior high and high school at Poly Prep were men. My coaches were men, and a fair number of my teachers were men. More than half, I’d say.
While I developed in many positive ways during junior high and high school, there is no question that I also picked up a bunch of harmful patterns during this time. Alongside the noble principles of manhood, I also was influenced by many toxic societal views of masculinity, which I still have to parse out to this day.
Anecdotally, decades later, I learned that our school administrators were hiding the fact that our football coach, Phil Foglietta, was molesting male student-athletes for decades. One of my friends was a victim all those years ago, and I never knew until the story broke to the world when I was a grown man with children of my own.
During my short stint in college, I experienced more of the same male-dominated leadership. I don’t remember a single female administrator at UVA that I connected with. It was a bunch of guys.
Looking back on the last twenty years of working, every company that I worked for was led by men. Which one would I say achieved the best working culture? The one named after a woman, Emma.
As an adult male, I never learned how to be led by a woman. And let’s be real, after 45 straight male Presidents of the United States of America, this seems to be by design.
In therapy last week, a conversation with my therapist that started around restrictive eating evolved into a revelation about the subconscious programming of violence against women in advertising, movies, and music.
It shook me to my core to acknowledge this. I’ve always had a visceral response to my interpretation of feminism that implies that men are somehow inherently bad. Hit dog holler.
The truth is I’m not inherently bad, I’m complicit.
My therapy session was tuning me up for what I would experience this weekend at an event called NEXUS Global Summit. NEXUS is a global community founded to bridge communities of wealth and social entrepreneurship. I was nominated to attend NEXUS events for the past couple of years, but with the Health:Further Festival always on the horizon, the timing was never right to participate. This year I had my opportunity.
The CEO of NEXUS is a woman. At least half the speakers at the event were women. And the attendance at the event, 51% women, 49% men. This woman-led gathering painstakingly achieved what I had previously thought was nearly impossible to achieve: Balance.
Why does that matter? Because the energy was incredible. Here we were in this intentionally gender-balanced environment, and I got this strong feeling (based on the interactions I experienced and observed) that the women in attendance felt empowered, supported, AND safe. As a man sharing space with them, that felt really, really good. It also resulted in the most effortless networking I’ve ever participated in. After three days I have at least twenty new friends.
Women feeling empowered, supported, and safe didn’t somehow take away from my power as a man. But it did make it clear to me how devoid this balance has been in my life. And if I had to guess, in the world overall.
I am a problem solver. I like to get to the root cause of things. This last week, a root cause of the dissonance I was experiencing in my identity as a man was revealed to me.
The imbalance of power between men and women in the world is terrible for all of us. Yes, men too.
I don’t need to say all the reasons why it’s terrible for women, and as a matter of practice, I’ll avoid trying to speak on behalf of women. Instead, I’ll share how not having more balance in power shifted to women has impacted me, as a man. And how I’m afraid it will affect my two sons.
I believe men are missing out on a healthier existence because we hold too much power in society; we just don’t know it because we over-associate our value as humans with leadership. What about partnership? What about protection? What about service? Men are under-experiencing these (and many more) incredible aspects of ourselves because of a profound, societal imbalance. And the world is nowhere near as great as it could be because of it.
This is not about men being inherently bad. It’s about imbalance. This is also not about women being inherently good. It’s about imbalance. We are missing out on at least half our collective power as a human race because of this imbalance, maybe more. As we are learning more about how we as humans function (sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, hormones, etc.), we have to acknowledge that the gender makeup of a room changes the dynamic of how we feel and thus how we act.
If it does that in a room, imagine what it does collectively in terms of power in communities and companies around the world.
I’m not going to beat myself up because I was born into it. I will own that I contributed to it, as have we all. And I’m going to do what I can to try to rebalance things.
I’m sorry for anything I did under the influence of this nonsense that perpetuated it. Let’s lift women up and not put men down. We all need to heal and rebalance.
Have a grateful day.