For those the that are not familiar with us, the Salt City Men’s Group is a circle sitting in Syracuse, NY and is an open I-Group. An Open I-Group will allow men who have not attended the NWTA to sit in circle with them.
Early in November of 2015, a young man named Adam came to with us for the first time. We had found each other through our group’s newly set up Meetup.com page. This remarkable young man has over the last four months become an integral part of the group. He has expressed his desire to attend our upcoming NWTA weekend as well as Law School in the near future.
Recently, during a circle, when we had a two brothers attending from Rochester in addition to four members of a local men’s group from another organization visiting our circle, Adam asked to take a few minutes to read something during our work round. It turned out to be part of his application to law school.
He has given me the permission to share his words here with you. All the men present were in some way touched by the words of this young man.
“I have never been a very open person. Maybe it stems from me wanting to appear infallible to my peers. Maybe it stems from my distrust of men from growing up without a father and never fully understanding how men connect with other men. Whatever the cause(s), I rarely open myself up unless I fully trust a person; the result being a very short list of close friends and confidants. My mother, a central figure in my life, always provides me with love and affection. She worked nights so she could be there when I got home from school. She moved us halfway across the country after domestic incidents with my estranged father became too commonplace for comfort. My mother has been and always will be my greatest supporter and protector. What I’ve struggled with is not a lack of love, but a lack of connection.
Given my distrust of men in particular, it was with much reservation and skepticism that I decided to attend an all men’s group. All men? The initial thoughts that came to mind centered around a cadre of chauvinistic, macho men whose t-shirts were two sizes too small. I also thought I would likely be the only person of color in the room. The latter was true, but the former could not have been further from the truth.
My first meeting was harmless enough, despite the uneasiness I felt towards men I had just met trying to hug me. What struck me the most about these men is that they had no problems with airing out sensitive and revealing information about themselves in front of a complete stranger. This is a group of men who hold themselves accountable, acknowledge they have weaknesses, and seek to actively work towards being better human beings.
For the first time in a while, I felt like I didn’t have to project an aura of invincibility. This in itself really set me in a tailspin since outward appearance is central to how I project myself. My high school reinvention, to mask all of the pain and insecurity, was to project an image of perfection and seriousness at all times. It worked all through high school and I became a master at it in college. Despite all the awards and involvement, I actually had very few friends to show for it. I was looked up to and exemplified as a role model, but had made only one connection in the form of a mentor during college. This fact naturally wore on me as college friends who I considered close turned out to be nothing more than friendly acquaintances. I was so tired of feeling isolated and not being able to express who I truly am. Was this group going to be the key to helping me be who I am to others? I had no idea that I was about to confront and come to peace with a stark dichotomy that had isolated me for such a long time.
My third meeting really shook me to the core and provided perspective beyond what I could have ever imagined. There is a segment in the group where men rank an issue they are currently struggling with on a scale of 1 to 10. I ranked my issue as a 7, and the floor was mine. I explained that my girlfriend and I had recently taken on the responsibility of providing foster care for her adopted sister’s son (aged 3) and daughter (aged 2). The problem is whether I decide to pursue law school with or without them. This question naturally causes tension in my relationship since it casts much uncertainty on what the future will hold. To tackle this question, we performed an exercise involving three chairs where I was in the middle and two sides of me were in the other chairs: which I named prestige and love. Prestige was an embodiment of my drive and ambition to succeed while love embodied openness with my feelings.
I decided to start with prestige, and gave myself a stern pep talk about how everything I’d worked for was on the line and my penance was coming due for retribution. I then turned to the other chair and spoke from the side of love and stressed the importance of not being afraid to be open. Then it hit me, luckily without falling out of the chair. Each side, love and prestige, would destroy me at their extremes. Prestige would lead me down an endless road of insatiable lust for success. Love would lead me in a vicious cycle of fragility and vulnerability. My solution had been to ramp up prestige and prioritize it over love. My biggest reservation for the side of love was the belief that it weakened me while prestige made me fearless. I realized that prestige was the side that was afraid and weak at its extreme since it’s constant drive for success was merely a mask for insecurity. And there it was, the nugget that I didn’t mean to find but did. The key was to strike a balance between the extremes and not let one dominate the other. It was at this moment that I began to cry a little. A weight that had been pulling me down so forcibly seemed to magically disappear. What I truly seek above all else is harmony. Harmony in pursuit of the success I desire; harmony in the relationships I maintain, and harmony in bringing it all together.
I know that I still have a long way to go for me to truly be as open as I can be. What this experience impressed upon me is I have the power to overcome even the direst of circumstances. I have no doubt that law school will be difficult and will require me to elevate to the highest levels of performance. What gives me the confidence and conviction to pursue my goals is the satisfaction of knowing that I am growing as a person and am capable of feats beyond even my own understanding. I will continue this progression forward by living the mantra of the group, AHO: which is to be authentic, honest, and open. “