To spend time in silence deep in nature far from other people is to know that everything is listening. There is the profound sense that the world around you is deeply attentive, and by listening to that, you honour the presence of everything. The bruises in bark, stone, leaves, dust, the flicker of a tiny bird through the branches: You make a hearth for all of them within you when you just listen.
But we humans don’t listen to each other. People are just hearing their own autobiographies, not to the person speaking. We are quick to say, “Yeah, that happened to me too, for example …” and off we go, talking about The Most Interesting Topic in the World: ourselves. Even trained therapists run the risk of only hearing the brilliance of their own therapeutic paradigms. We too often listen with the intent to reply, not the intent to understand.
I belong to a men’s group here in New Zealand, Wiseguys. Listening is what keeps us together, despite the arguments and “politics” we have. Each meeting has what we call a “check in”, a time where a man can talk freely about issues. Many people are in a lot of pain with nowhere to go to voice that anguish and confusion. The pub will not do. Sometimes the wife will not do. A man needs a safe place where he can open up, even weep, and know he will not be judged. This is not to say that there is not also a lot of laughter.
I arrive at Wiseguys meeting sometimes feeling so down, a flat battery, and within minutes I am energised. Not because there is any smart therapy. It is just the feeling that comes with being in the presence of fellow men who respect others’ presence and each others’ stories. Some have serious issues: court cases; assault charges; the family chasing the man for his will now that his wife has died; or bankruptcy along with his partner deserting him. Men who were hospitalised for a while due to sheer stress.
And so they come to Wiseguys, which has some similarity to Quaker meetings. There is no strict leadership, just “facilitators”. At the end of the day, there is no magic wand for these men, no clever therapy, just a bunch of blokes willing to simply listen. I itch in my seat to come up with all the smart answers I know, but the man does not need smart answers. He just needs someone to listen to him. In a way his wife, or ex, or family, or employer, or attorney, or the police, or the judge, will not listen to him and value him as a human being.
I can’t explain why a bunch of blokes of utterly different “classes” and ages can cohere like this, but, somehow, there is an enormous energy that revitalises and matures us. And it is extremely important that women are not there. Women “role” us. When women are around our sexual role invariably comes out; we are unable to listen or open up as easily (in a men’s group) because now our prowess is at stake. I can only relate to other women as a sexual male. I am doubly aware of them if I find them — to use that trite, stereotyped word — attractive in any way. And I act differently — the key word being “act”. There is a different energy taking place when women enter the room which confuses the issue of men learning to disclose.
Groups like Wiseguys (and yes, there should be a Wisegals) are where men can get together and find out what we, as men, are all about. And it’s somewhat epiphanic to realise that we men don’t know what the hell we are all about. Feminists haven’t helped. Too often they have taught us that we are oppressors: the patriarchal hegemony thing. My favourite Feminist bête noire writer is Camille Paglia.
I love Paglia partly because I don’t always agree with her; her essays crackle with erudition but are flawed in a way that precisely mirrors the human condition. That is to say, her writing is seldom idealised. In Vamps & Tramps she wrote, “the shrill feminist melodrama of male oppressor/female victim came straight out of nickelodeon strips of mustache-twirling villains and squealing maidens tied to train tracks”. The key term is the binary/, often used by Feminists, creating an “us and them”. It is inferred that men and women are enemies. We are not.
Because of Wiseguys, women are thrilled with the refurbished, gentler, peaceful men that come back to them. I am uncomfortable around Feminists (using the capital F as explained in my previous blog). Their often minatory language presents no workable solution for healthy relationships. Though they never say so, their language is often chillingly resonant with some kind of Final Solution for men. In short, I am uncomfortable around Feminists. Because there is an agenda I have to perform in accordance with their Feminist dance. I don’t feel I belong among them, because I am a man. And yes, right now any Feminist or anyone else could accuse me of falling into the same gender-estranging role, because I am “attacking”. But it is the idea of Feminism that I am wary of, not women, whose company is devoutly to be wished.
Sometimes, we in Wiseguys sit for a moment or two in silence, especially after one of the blokes has offloaded and is battling to keep the tears at bay. Or weeps. Because only sissies and girls cry, and even his father taught him that. And his father’s father.
I have become gentler and less critical as a result of Wiseguys. And more secure in myself as a man in an increasingly Feminist world, where Feminism rules, especially in New Zealand (more on that in another blog). Because of Wiseguys I have owned up to nagging and criticising my own partner, Marion. Now I hug and cherish her far more often. Because listening is sacred.