Caring Broadly and Building Listening Resources
Created By: Paul Whyte on 03/08/2000 at 09:58 AM
Category: Women and Men

Some thoughts on strategies and tactics in alliance building for men's liberation.

Humans carry a deeply seated desire to have everything put to rights. If communicated well, this desire can bring people from diverse backgrounds into broad alliances. Attempts are commonly made between people to call for "fairness" for men, women or some other group. To date calls for fairness have not lead to the broad alliances needed to put things to right. There are more than a few reasons for this. In adulthood what one group may study and with due consideration consider "fair", is often seen by the members of other groups as deeply offensive. One only has to listen to the evening news to hear many examples of just this. The wars and civil wars have had despirate attempts at fairness over their histories. It's not that fairness is wrong: it just does not work well enough in the current cultures to get where we need to go. That is because the key issues of groups of people are different. Generally the depth or importance of key issues is just not seen very well by most people.

A clear way forward for men who want to bring women into a broad alliance - in order for both to have better lives - is to develop the quality and the availability of care. We can make allies by being allies. The ability to listen and to care about what is being told, is currently in atleast in the western world in very short supply, in many areas of life. This resource needs to be developed so that what is important to every group can be concidered. In any way at any time to reach for the broadest caring is to reach for a common human unity. The most common hurdle to good relationships with women and men is competition for attention. This competition needs to be replaced with creating safety so that good listening can take place. To begin with, caring broadly is about putting the agenda of the one who is talking (or has the focus of attention) first, then taking turns so that all get attention. Initially one may need to be listened to by "safe buddies" only. A workable main strategy for men's liberation is to find, discharge, and replace all the area's of men's lives where unworkable struggles for "fairness" are occluding our inherent abilities to care broadly for everything including ourselves. Distress patterns exist in the areas of a persons life where they have not been cared and thought about, well enough yet.

It's been well understood in most men's groups that safety and liking are key men's issues. This is because without them men's stories just do not get told. Yet broad unity is illusive. I suggest an additional strategy is needed to allow differently focused liberation work to build unity. The most successful strategy that I have seen anywhere for building men's liberation, is to care broadly and build the listening resource that all people need. It both builds up men and builds allies. This tool if well implemented may allow progress in otherwise stuck areas. Most men's liberation efforts that enjoy only slow or very limited success reach for "fairness". People who agree with men's liberation programs can often be reached by appeals to fairness..... and then there is the rest of the population! People can fight for a long time competing for what is "fair" for whom. What is missing and not understood, is that until listening resources are improved, the full story will simply not be heard. And many situations can not be remedied unless that fuller picture is taken into account.

Caring broadly by it's nature is expansive, inclusive and without limits. It's most easily seen in the youngest and best-treated children. It is part of our underlying human nature. Everyone is challenged to "really be themselves" by a person who "models" even if it's for short periods of time, really caring about everyone and everything. To be able to listen well and really understand another person is an important and necessary skill.

All kinds of human divisions and struggles leave us with limited abilities to care. These same struggles and divisions also effect our ability to see what is fair from others' viewpoint. The ability to care broadly is challenged in different ways depending on what's happened. For example most boys have had to give up on caring and learn to survive within a culture of "the fair fight". Mostly girls have had to settle for an obligation to care within limits. It's to be expected that males may have struggles with isolation and defensiveness and females with resentment. Whatever a person's limits are to caring, things are improved when someone else cares about them.

Nothing in the world is fair. As things go wrong distress patterns build up and behaviours, become rigid. In order to fill their designated role in current society, men have played a role where men have been trained to act like they don't care. That has a lot to do with the state of the world. The population has generally not recovered to a place of ease about much of what men have "had to do" far less what men really "did not need to do" but did anyway. It takes someone who has caring available to pay attention to "unfairness" and still think flexibly when listening to men.

Just about everyone has reached for fairness when things are not right. In my experience young people universally, reach for fairness as a way of trying to get attention. When adults have attention for young people, appealing for fairness is a workable process. The resource that this success depends on is the adults' attention. There are many adults who care very deeply about young people's well-being. Even with young people who in my opinion are the loveliest of humans, there are occasions when appealing to adults for fairness backfires, and young people are essentially abandoned or hurt.

Children often get left with under-resourced mums, then under-resourced mostly women teachers. You need a team to do a good job with young children, yet mostly adults get abandoned with the young. The ability to stay in there with children gets dependent on amongst other things the limits of women's culture (that is, the places where women have grown to accept the limits imposed on them by society). Little boys often, but not always, can find no place in women's culture after a year or two in school exposes them to the rougher parts of boys culture. Women mostly get protected from the worst in that culture. The effect of being left in a "fair fight" culture leaves most males increasingly distant from others. There is usually little ability to pay good attention to men and men's lives as a result - either by men or women. Support for mums and dads to have quality time with their children is invaluable.

Women have mostly been forced into a caretaking role and the resentment that's resulted often constitutes a limit to caring broadly. Appeals to fairness only work to bring up feelings of unfairness in everyone who has had to care and is not cared about well. Caring about everything that has happened diffuses the apparent but transitory competition for attention between women and men. In any situation where attention is needed, deciding to care broadly improves things. For any one to reach for fairness for men where others need attention usually just makes a mess!

Fairness is by its nature a comparison. Getting all the details of males' lives out in the open needs listeners to have the attention to hear it out. For fairness to be within reach when it comes to the lives of adult males the whole situation needs to be seen well by all concerned.

Getting the real stories of men's lives out in the open is more strategically important than appeals to fairness. A strategy of broadly caring about everyone can build the ability to care needed to be able to listen to men. It will be obvious to those who can listen, what's fair and what's not when men's lives really get told.

To use caring broadly as a strategy, activists for men's liberation need to be well supported, so that the ability to care deeply and listen effectively is well developed and maintained. To become effective at changing men's lives and changing the institutions that oppress men, men's groups and organisations need to develop a core of effective peer counselling. The primary limits that must be broken to enable men's liberation to proceed are the limits to caring and listening.

Paul Whyte

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Updated 19/1/2004