April 18, 2014

What Males Get In A Guy Pack

The men of the Desert Men's Council in Tucson, Arizona recently put on an overnight campout in the rocky foothills of the Dragoon Mountains. There were about 26 males involved, many of whom didn't know each other, and many who were not used to spending nights under the stars in the wild outdoors. I'll put a link to the photos at the end of this post, but in this post, I really want to address a particular kind of guy magic that happens when a large group of males of different ages get together for an adventure.

I've been around lots of men and boys on hikes, adventure outings, and on Rites of Passage Weekends. What I've noticed on these occasions is, without any prompting, and almost instinctively, certain forms of predictable behaviors begin to unfold. Let's call it male tendencies or maybe a predisposition to act in certain ways when in a group of guys. I'm sharing my observations and inviting you to notice these things the next time you're in a guy pack. Think of it as increasing your male-literacy. I'm still chewing on this bone and may refine these thoughts later, but if you're working with groups of different-aged guys, here are some behaviors to watch for:

The males sort themselves out: The sort can be by age or maturity, interests, and then countless sub-levels. On a hike with 30 males of different ages, it begins to happen in the parking lot at the start. By 20 minutes up the trail you see little clots of guys of about the same age. The old dudes pretty quickly meet each other and stand around chatting together. The younger boys get to playing pretty quickly. The teens eventually figure each other out by clothing, body type, or the mention of a certain video game or type of music. Eventually, they, too, begin to connect. It makes sense that common interests, vocabulary, and discomfort with the other age groups all combine to keep the players feeling safest with their age peers. Those of us in charge employ a number of strategies to keep these mini-cliques shuffled, but on a long enough hike or event, the guys all find their way back to new friends of about the same age.

After the fear comes fellowship: I know there will always be some fear and discomfort in the beginning of the pack forming. That's why I like the idea of getting a new group into a circle and then invite them to check in with a little personal information. I use a format that includes stating your name, a feeling you're having right now (to develop emotional vocabulary), and then one thing you're excited about and one thing you're nervous about. I model the check-in and by doing so, set the intimacy bar up a notch by being "real" and naming my excitement and fears. That kind of introductory conversation going around the circle helps break the ice, lets everyone get a head start on knowing each other, and helps the mask of male bravado come off pretty quickly. That way an early level of trust is formed more quickly. From then on, it's fun for me to lay back and watch the distance between guys shrink in the face of the common adventure.

Males like hierarchy: This is especially true for teenagers. If they don't know each other, they mingle, talk, watch, position, and so on, until they have figured out who belongs where in the pecking order. If some competitive theme is established such as music, video games, clothing, cars, women, or just about any kind of physical skill, they will stay at it with each other until the hierarchy is clear. The group may not even be conscious of the process, but if you watch/listen closely, you can see it happening. Often it's on many different levels or criteria at the same time. The older guys do it too, but it's not as important to them. The really young dudes are not that interested in who is who, they just want to have fun.

The truth is that males of any age
are all trying to figure out
what it means to be a "man."

They watch each other: I think it's common for just about any age male to be watching the guys who are a little older. The truth is that males of any age are all trying to figure out what it means to be a "man." So it makes sense that the guy who is a little farther down the road to manhood than the observer may be the embodiment of an important life lesson. Guys, especially the teens, are always watching those who are a little more experienced at living. A "real" man, who you think is solid and is older than you, can be a great teacher. That's one of the reasons I love multi-generational groups of males. The whole book of a man's life is on display across the ages, so everyone in the pack can go to school on the life that's coming at them.

Play is good for everyone: With just about any challenge or game, the young boys like to be included. The teens love trying to outdo each other, and if possible, outdo the older guys. When provoked, the middle-aged men love the challenges from the teenagers and will engage hoping their skill and experience will outlast the youthful energy. For us older dudes, after a very little involvement, it is sweet (and more comfortable) to simply smile and watch from the sidelines as the guys' games take place. Guys playing is really fun.


Adventure or challenges are important: While true for most young guys, teens especially seem to have a need to compete, test and prove themselves, and the more energy expended in the process, the better. I especially like the outdoor activities where the goal is getting to a high peak, climbing a rock wall (safely), or simply sleeping out in the woods or wilderness. Even small adventures give each guy the opportunity to overcome fears, and stretch themselves into new environments or challenges. On our hike in the wilderness, it turned out there was a common fear of using the wilderness outdoor, hole-in-the-ground toilet! In adventure activities everyone gets to learn how to take on something new and maybe difficult, and do it with the encouragement, guidance, and support of others. This is a great way to build self-esteem in individuals and it makes some powerful glue in the guy pack.

The teen guys test limits: Full of testosterone and propelled by their biology, teenage guys are feeling powerful and full of themselves. They feel almost foolishly invincible and are hungry to find and test their limits in just about any quest. I've recently written about this drive and the lack of rational thinking for so many teens. While some caution is in order in selecting adventures, the mixed-age pack has a natural way of creating great testing opportunities while moderating the most dangerous tendencies of teen risk-taking behavior.

On our outings, the men will always lead a safety conversation and set up some guidelines for the event. We do this knowing full well that the teens will very likely push past our very important and logical boundaries. They will break the rules, and test us for our resolve and degree of consequences. The challenge for the older men is to stand strong in the face of the very predictable assault on limits, and do so without anger. This dance may be repeated a couple times, with threats or real consequences, and appeals to their dignity being called into play. I like reminding the teens they are role models for young boys. This ancient drama is actually a fun part of an outing, IF you know it's coming.

Real caring for and support of each other often shows up: As part of the opening circles, I like introducing the idea of mutual support. I speak the obvious that we all have different abilities, that it's easy to feel left out or one-down, and that it doesn't take much effort to travel as a real band of brothers, looking out for each other. Sometimes I'll even invite the group to practice giving a compliment to a few guys they don't know. It really is a grand idea, and it mostly gets lost in the chaos of the outing. Yet I often see small acts of kindness and support with an older guy helping a younger or poorly equipped hiking brother. I'll see a teenager giving an eight year-old a boost over a difficult place or sharing water. If we're on a destination hike or experience, we always bump up the achievement with high fives to honor each other, and the victory photos we take celebrate the mutual accomplishment. It's all making more glue for the guy pack, too, because we all did it . . . together!

A guy's Truth can, and often is, spoken: - IF there’s a space created for it, and if the right questions are asked, the mask of teen bravado is often lowered and a real human with real human feelings can be seen. In the check-in or check-out circles, or especially around the campfire after a day of shared adventure and a meal, along with jokes about farting, really important conversations can be had. Because of the trust that's been built by the common adventure, and with role modeling by men, important truths can and often are spoken. There is never pressure to reveal one's self, but when such an unusual opportunity is presented, the masks often fall away. Fears, sadness, successes, hopes, anger, and gratitude are often revealed. We ask guys to raise a hand when someone shares something they have going on too. There's a comfort in seeing other's hands go up. When around the fire, a teen cries because of missing the dad he never knew, a man shares his joy of regaining custody of his kids, or the eight-year-old in the pack shows us his tears of pure grief about his dog that just died, you know it's Truth that's being shared, and it's a good thing. Males learn they are not alone with their hopes, fears and self doubts, and that we are all much more alike than we ever knew.

All males in a mixed-age tribe really like it: In truth, males are hardwired for a guy pack. I fully believe that each of these little bits of drama have been occurring down through time. I like thinking that hundreds of years ago, a pack of males like ours headed out for a hunt in the wilderness. There was fear, testing, successes, failures, learning, making good fun of each other, serious moments, and I know there was laughter when someone passed a huge fart. I also know that each male came back tired but strangely refreshed and felt he was a little better man for the going.


Here is the link to the campout photos;, but the pictures really only touch on the heart of the experience. I'd say go for the real thing. If you get a chance to head out in a guy pack, don't miss it. It will make you a better man.


CONTACT: Send Earl a message. I'm very interested in your thoughts on any man-making post or topic. I'm available to help bring man-making initiatives to your community or organization.

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March 29, 2014

(Updated) Urban Climbers and that Dangerous Teen Brain

I'm often asked by frustrated, sometimes overwhelmed parents, "Why is my teenage guy so (foolish, angry, impulsive, restless, etc.)? If you have a teen male in your life, or work with them in any way, I'm sure you've had the same thoughts and felt the frustration. When it comes to civilized behavior, responsiveness, great decisions, mature conversation, and a stable emotional life from a teenage male, be prepared to wait patiently, for years!

The very short story about the teen brain is if you remove environmental factors, such as parenting deficits, education, community effects, and economics, you're left with the problem of an under-developed pre-frontal cortex. The parts of a young guy's brain that evolve initially are the parts that deal with physical coordination, motivation, and even emotions. It's part of the reason our guys love physical challenges, excitement, competition, and why they get so fired up about winning and crushed when they lose.

Sadly, we really are dealing with
a developmentally disabled person!

Unfortunately for everyone involved, contemporary research tells us the pre-frontal cortex, where good decisions are made, is not fully developed in young males until the mid-twenties. Our young guys are wonderful, funny, and energetic, but the hard truth is their teen brains are just not fully wired when it comes to clear thinking and judgment. Sadly, we really are dealing with a developmentally disabled person! One really good book for parents on the topic is, Why Do They Act That Way?: A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen, by Dr. David Walsh Ph.D.

Below is a video, sent to me by more than one blog reader, each in their own way expressing awe and horror at the degree of foolishness being demonstrated by so many young men. In it you'll hear both young male bravado and their "I can do it" rationalizations. You'll also experience the peer pressure to go extreme which really compounds the danger. In the beginning you'll hear the fears and frustrations of a single mom (with a more fully developed brain) and she tries to understand and cope with her son's behavior. This is a hard video to watch on a whole bunch of levels.



If this clip doesn't show up above use this link.

What's really scary is that this one clip has had over 2.5 million views. The copycat videos by young men seeking to build their urban climbing credentials, and even urban climbing business opportunities, are now proliferating. In the video, what was made clear is the places so many of these young men live, there isn't else much to do. Another way to think about it is there are few other reasonable outlets for this powerful young male energy. The young guys, in a way, have no choice. Their powerful bodily chemistry and rapidly developing physical strength and capabilities are driving them to take challenges and validate the warrior energy they feel. Sadly, they don't yet have a brain capable of thinking through the consequences. As inexplicable as it is to adults, doing these crazy stunts makes perfect sense to them.

This is another example of what's been true about adolescent males for ages. If we don't very intentionally support, guide, and initiate our young men, you can be sure they will find ways to initiate themselves in to their own and often tragic version of manhood. Michael Mead in his book, Men and the Water of Life: Initiation and the Tempering of Men (1993-Harper San Francisco), paraphrased an old tribal proverb, "If the fires that innately burn inside youths are not intentionally and lovingly added to the hearth of community, they will burn down the structures of culture, just to feel the warmth." It means if we don't channel this powerful young male energy, there will increasingly be adolescent-driven chaos in our communities, and too many of them will be jailed or lost just like the urban climbers who have been killed.

On my Man-Making Blog I've written a number of posts on the topic of the adolescent brain. If you go to the blog and enter "brain" in the search box on the right, you find 3 or 4 articles which will point you to other resources. A Google search on teen brain also brings up a lot of great content. One website on the topic I really like is from the National Institute of Mental Health.

As to the more general topic of teen development, the book list on the Man-Making website suggests many books that explore the different forces, physical and environmental, working to shape the lives of our young men for better and worse.



CONTACT: Send Earl a message. I'm very interested in your thoughts on any man-making post or topic. I'm available to help bring man-making initiatives to your community or organization.

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March 17, 2014

Teaching Young Men To Prevent Sexual Violence

Tim Wernette is a Gender Equity Educational Specialist with the University of Arizona/AZ Department of Education, and a regular contributor to the Man-Making Blog. He has been involved with the pro-feminist men's movement since the late 1970s and has volunteered at the Tucson rape crisis center doing educational outreach. He sent along this personal story about how sexual assault touched his life when he was a young man.



What today I know was a sexual assault happened at the house I was renting with some other guys near Michigan State University. It happened in the late 1960s when I was a young man in my early 20’s. I was a naive, sexually inexperienced, and ignorant college kid. It was also in the days before the women’s movement and feminism. The short story of what happened is one of my roommates picked up a high school girl he knew to party for the weekend. She was a virgin, he got her really drunk Saturday night, and he took her upstairs to his bedroom and had sex with her. After more than forty years, my memory of the details is a little hazy, but the feelings of sadness, regret, and guilt for not saying or doing anything to prevent that act are as vivid as ever.

. . . the feelings of sadness, regret, and guilt
for not saying or doing anything
to prevent that act are as vivid as ever.

In those days people didn’t talk about “date rape.” If they talked at all about men and sex, it was all about a guy’s high sex drive and need to score, or women asking for it by dressing/acting seductively. Rape is what happened in some dark alley or park, and was done by a sleazy stranger. There wasn't any education about sexual assault or date rape. Any prevention messages you might hear were all directed to the women: Don’t go out alone at night; Don’t drink too much; Take a self-defense course and learn how to protect yourself. The unspoken message was “boys will be boys,” or maybe even, it's okay for boys to be boys and act out sexually. At the time of the incident, my feelings aside, I really didn’t realize my roommate was actually doing anything wrong.

Today, it’s called sexual assault and it’s understood that it’s not really about sex, but about violence, power, and feeling control over someone. We also know that most sexual assaults are committed by someone the target knows, an acquaintance, a friend, a partner or even a husband. In addition to educating girls/women about the dangers of sexual assault and how to protect yourself, today, boys/men are also being taught about sexual assault and the dangers for men as perpetrators and as potential targets.


In addition, there is a new front line in the sexual assault prevention arena. It’s a focus on the bystander(s). Bystanders can be anywhere along a continuum from actually doing nothing and supporting the assault (as I did), to stepping in with actions to prevent the assault. One solid article on that topic is from the New York Times titled, Stepping Up to Stop Sexual Assault. The article explores this new terrain where both women and men can intervene with both gender targets and perpetrators to stop sexual assault before it happens. Among the interesting facts, the article mentions somewhere around 3% of college men account for 90-95% of campus rapes. The goal is to get the other 97% of guys to “come into the room and help with the problem.”

Research shows that if one person stands up and intervenes, others will also; but if no one stands up, others won’t either. This challenges all of us to develop the courage and skills to step in and keep a possible sexual assault from occurring. I’m still haunted by the look on the girl’s face when she came down for breakfast Sunday morning, and her fear, shock, and bewilderment about what had happened to her the night before. I want to do what I can to insure our young men know how to stand up for potential victims and have the courage to do so. I don’t want anyone to have to live with sadness, regret, and guilt for not intervening.



For those working with young men, there are lots of resources on the web that can help with formal and informal bystander intervention training; just Google it. As the New York Times article, which Tim mentioned, points out, when one guy gets in the way of another guy in pursuit of getting laid, it’s not called “bystander intervention,” but “shot blocking” and there is some considerable skill involved. In the educational campaign from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, their website suggests a simple formula called The 3 Ds of Active Bystandership. The 3 D’s are Direct, Distract, and Delegate.

Here is a short video clip showing a skilled active bystander in action. He’s using a slightly different formula, Disrupt, Distract, Redirect, but it’s a great example of what might be possible.



If this clip doesn't show up use this link.

If you have a way to do it in a group or just in a conversation, take the risk to let young men know where you stand on sexual violence. Keep it simple, show a video, or have a conversation about this blog post. Offer your own version of bystander training and in doing so, let them know when it comes to sexual violence, you have to take a stand. It might just prevent very painful consequences in the lives of some of the young men and women you know.



CONTACT: Send Earl a message. I'm very interested in your thoughts on any man-making post or topic. I'm available to help bring man-making initiatives to your community or organization.

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March 10, 2014

Masculine Gravity and the Guy's Hike

The last Man-Making Blog post described the work of two powerful man-makers, men who I claim have caught man-making fire. Another way I speak about that desire to be more and more involved with young men is "masculine gravity." It's a term that describes the mix of fun, pleasure, joy, laughter, and a powerful sense of rightness that works on men who spend some time in a pack of men and adolescent males.

HOW MASCULINE GRAVITY WORKS: After a very little time spent in a mixed-age guy-pack, a man quickly realizes the young dudes are not as scary as he thought they'd be, he learns the young guys like having them around, and that the time with these guys is really fun! In addition, a man will find all kinds of reminders of his adolescent years, for better and for worse. There is always the kid who reminds a man of the young lad he was as a teen, and the exchanges and behaviors of the young guys conjure up memories of his days in the boy pack. In that side-by-side way men make connections, a man may find a young guy hovering around him or asking him a question that starts a conversation. If a man responds to that invite, a connection is often made. If the hike or event is long enough a man is likely to hear young guy stories that will touch his heart with their unreserved and often familiar truths. All of these forces acting together create a feeling he's in the right place, he really is made for this work, and leaves him with a hunger for more. That's masculine gravity, and it always leaves a man feeling better about himself for the time spent.

. . . it always leaves a man feeling better
about himself for the time spent.

I wouldn't be writing this if I didn't feel that gravitational pull, and you wouldn't be reading this if you didn't feel some form of pull or call to this work. So just FYI, this "force" is already working on you.

On a recent outing, I was actually able to see masculine gravity working as I watched a group of men ripen to man-making over the course of a five hour event.


Wasson Peak is the highest peak in the Tucson Mountains. At the top, you get a 360 degree view of the whole Tucson basin. Hikers have to work to earn that view. On January 25th, the Desert Men's Council, a group I belong to, held their Annual Guy's Hike. On that day, a multi-generational tribe of almost 30 males, between the ages of 9 and 70 reached the summit.

It is always sweet for me to see how the guy-pack drama unfolds. In the pre-hike circle, it's usually the case that not everyone knows everyone else. So in the circle, we ask each male to say his name and what he's looking forward to in the experience. There's a little safety training, counting off by numbers, and then making a commitment to face the ordeal together. We agree to support each other and to all arrive together at the top.

Shortly after we head out, the young guys unconsciously begin to immediately sort themselves by age, personality type, and fitness level. The men will initially struggle to wrangle the pack, and then eventually yield to the overwhelming energy of the young males who take off up the trail. Also, as it always happens, the oldest alpha male in the boy-pack follows the leader's instructions and holds the young dudes back till the slower boys and men catch up. Waiting for those at the back of the pack is a challenge for the faster guys, and trying to step it up and not be the caboose is a challenge for the slower guys. As a result of these demands and sacrifices, somewhere along the way up the mountain, we become a true band of brothers. Along the way, we explored a long wash, scrambled over huge boulders, and found ancient petroglyphs on the walls. We passed fenced-off entrances to old mines and had spectacular vistas all the way.

At the top there was relief, awe at the vista, and lots of congratulations all around. The group photo really says it all. All males, pulled together in a common victory. The way down was quieter as the fatigue set in, but we were welded together in a way, and the waiting and supporting each other got easier. It was a demanding five-hour round trip hike that ended with very tired bodies and many new friends and happy memories. Oh, the young guys reminded me they got awesome Facebook pictures and some serious bragging rights along the way.

In the check-out circle, everyone is asked to name a feeling as a highlight from the hike. I guess "tired" is a feeling because many claimed it, and even in that, we were on common ground. The majority of the check-out statements reflected how the experience had exceeded their expectations, that it was really a lot of fun, and that it was good to be outdoors and active and with a group of guys. Even being physically exhausted and with tired legs and sore feet, most of the young dudes said they wanted more, soon! There were four men who individually came up to me after the hike, thanked me, and said they, too, were interested additional events, our Rite of Passage weekends, and the other work of our Desert Men's Council group. It's all about masculine gravity.

Here is the link to just a few of the photos from the hike. These pictures only begin to tell the story of the perfect day, the laughs, new friends, physical effort, BIG vistas, and tired bodies at the end. If you look very closely, you can see the masculine gravity working, pulling the guys together, and pulling men toward man-making!



CONTACT: Send Earl a message. I'm very interested in your thoughts on any man-making post or topic. I'm available to help bring man-making initiatives to your community or organization.

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February 25, 2014

My Passage - A Man-Making Conference Call and the Annual Man-Making Blog Survey Results

Speaking of Rites of Passage, in celebration of my 70th birthday, and having solidly crossed the line into Elderhood, I've been doing a lot of traveling lately. That's why I've not posted in a while. I'll be back on the job full time starting in March. You can read about my most recent trip to Oaxaca, Mexico here.




MAN-MAKING CONFERENCE CALL: As you'll read in the results of The Annual Man-Making Blog Survey below, many of you said you'd be interested in participating in a conference call focused on Man-Making topics. My current plan is to hold the first of these conversations at 7 PM (MST), March 11th. That would be 9 PM on the east coast of the US and 6 PM on the west coast. For everyone else it's GMT +7. The first conversation will be around the theme of how to get men to show up for young males, both in general and in our organizations.

If you'd like to be included in this call, send me a note with your name, the part of the world where you're located, and any other background information you'd like to share. In return, I'll send you a brief outline and the instructions and log-in information for the conference call.

I have no idea what the response will be, but if there are two of us, I'll be happy. If the response is strong, and to keep the exchanges manageable, the first 10 to sign up by email will be the active participants in the conversation. Later registrants will have to be listeners with an opportunity for questions at the end. It's my intention to record the event and possibly post it for those who couldn't attend. If you are reading this, you are someone I'd like to have in on the conversation, so don't screen yourself out. Any Man-Making Blog reader is welcome.



Your responses to The Annual Man-Making Blog Survey were great. Here is a brief summary of what you told me:

What is ONE thing I can do to make the Man-Making blog more meaningful for you? There were only a few specific kinds of requests in the responses. One person said, "I think it would be helpful to hear about smaller, local town/city groups. Sometimes reading about those wonderful big groups is intimidating." Another person asked to hear about, ". . . Man-Making failures and the personal success stories." A man asked specifically about church-based programs when he stated, "I'm trying to get the men in my church interested in this type of event without much success... I'd love to hear some success stories and how they did it."

There were many affirming responses (thank you) along the lines of, "Don't change! Keep bringing us ideas, stories, and hope for building meaningful connections between boys and men." My favorite reply in this category said, "Yours is an exquisitely soft and delicate message that kicks men in the hearts and nuts, inviting them to do the job that manhood requires of them!"

What type of content in blog posts is most interesting or helpful to you? This was a multiple choice question asking for your top 2 or 3 topics. Many responders still clicked them all. In order of preference, information about, "Getting men interested in mentoring and man-making" was a clear winner with, "Rites of Passage activities or programs for boys" a close second. Next came, "Developing school-based support groups for boys," with getting a better understanding of, "Young male developmental stages" in fourth place. The other topics, Community based violence prevention for young males; Man-Making related research; Single parents raising boys; and Man-Making Films and Book Reviews, all had quite a few votes each. I plan to reflect these responses, as much as possible, in my posts going forward.

Are you aware of a Man-Making resource I should profile in the blog? Responses to this question brought suggestions for programs in South Africa, Australia, Canada and the US, many of which are already lined up for future blog posts. Others promised to be "foreign correspondents," watching for Man-Making related programs or newsworthy events in their part of the world.

"Yours is an exquisitely soft and delicate message
that kicks men in the hearts and nuts,
inviting them to do the job
that manhood requires of them!"

Idea Sharing? I love the idea that it's "all of us" and not just me on the lookout for inspiration and solid examples of Man-Making. You, the motivated readers, represent a giant body of experience in this area, and we can all learn from each other. That's why I put out the multiple-choice question about different ways we might have a chat about the work.

Many of you said you'd like to be part of either an "Open Conference Call" or a "Topic Focused Conference Call" for idea sharing. Earl's "Special Report" Publications got a lot of votes, so I'll be thinking about what those reports might be all about. There were a few of you interested in a "Private Facebook Group" but not enough at this point to be going down that path.



Thanks again for your support, for caring enough to respond, and helping me keep this blog relevant for you and the other readers. The work of making good men out of our young guys will take all of us and many more, each doing the thing they can do. Thanks for stepping up.



CONTACT: Send Earl a message. I'm very interested in your thoughts on any man-making post or topic. I'm available to help bring man-making initiatives to your community or organization.

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