Like many “men’s groups,” at the beginning of most MenLiving Full House meetings, the host will ask the men present to raise their hands and make a pledge of confidentiality. In essence, we all agree to uphold the idea that “what is said here stays here.” When I first experienced it, all I could think about was the “Cone of Silence.”
In the late 60’s, Mel Brooks and Buck Henry introduced the spy satire, Get Smart, featuring Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, basically a bumbling James Bond. I loved this show (yes, I was growing up in the late sixties). One of the recurring bits was the “Cone of Silence.” The essence of the joke is that this apparatus would fall from the ceiling designed for secret conversations, but it was impossible for those inside the device – and easy for those outside the device – to hear the conversation. Max was often reminding his boss, The Chief, that their conversation required the Cone of Silence annoying the Chief without fail. The Chief knew the gadget didn’t work. I identify with the Chief.
As I understand it, establishing confidentiality or also known as creating “safe spaces” or “containers” is a foundational aspect of “men’s work.” One definition of a safe space is a trusting environment of no judgment where men can share thoughts, ideas, and feelings without fear of rejection or ridicule. A safe space is a place where men can be open and vulnerable. I suppose after centuries of conditioning requiring “real” men not to be emotional, to be strong, to not ask for help, and to have it all together, the idea of doing the opposite without the idea of a safe space is intimidating and can take courage. I do understand why invoking a Cone of Silence can be comforting, but if we want to really tear down this conditioning wouldn’t it be best to be the above in “all the spaces?”
As one that creates opportunities for men to share thoughts, ideas and feelings, I don’t ask for this pledge (probably not a surprise). I don’t for a couple of reasons. First, as a friend of mine refers to it, the process feels unnatural. Never have I connected with someone and asked for them to swear confidence before engaging. Secondly, as a host of these gatherings, I don’t want to presume that I can create a safe space. I believe the only one who can do that is the man that enters. He will determine what he is willing to share. He will determine the integrity of the space he enters. I will offer him my leadership, my vulnerability, my curiosity, and my respect. The rest is up to him.
One last thought. I have often highlighted examples of men showing emotion in public in our weekly email. I would say it is still something seen as an exception in our society. I think we have an opportunity to normalize authenticity, to foster vulnerability, to celebrate emotion in men. We need to encourage men to have the fortitude to be all these things in the world, not just under a cone of silence.