#OpenMinday @GoodMenProject and being a man

What is Open Minday?

Update: 31 Jan 2012
I want this project to be honest, and to be something I follow myself, so I must say that @GoodMenProject is no longer in my timeline.

It’s a step in the right direction but I have stopped reading the site because it is not going anywhere. The argument of what makes a good man is a great place to start, but there is a hundred miles of thought beyond that point. This is where the site is failing to go.

The basis of the project – real stories from real men – is powerful. But there is only so much soul-searching or windless questioning you can do before you must take the next step and actually decide for yourself what makes a good man. And then do that thing.

I don’t know what any other man is going through, because I am one man, me. But I know that for as long as I can remember I’ve had questions about what I ought to be striving for, about who I am, and about who can answer these questions.

For the past year, as I’ve got married and my wife became pregnant, the question of what it means to be a man in this modern global world has only got more important to me. I want to explore it, think about it, write about it. But often I feel in a minority.

The Good Men Project is a website I literally stumbled upon, and since then I’ve been reading as much of it as possible – principally because I knew it was the perfect Open Minday subject. There are other discussions about maleness, but I see nothing so prolific.

I’ve had to give up trying to read every article flagged up by @GoodMenProject because I’ve already got six of them queued and I’ll never get anything else done otherwise. It’s many things at once, but it entirely lives up to its goal to create a discussion about men.

But everyone would benefit from reading the website because essentially the discussion is about being a good person and the challenges we all face. It’s a rare exposure of the discussions, tensions and questions which sometimes I struggle even to share with myself.

It began as a project sharing the real life stories of men that “changed the writer and changed the reader”, and it is when stories are shared and confessed, when writers are at their most honest and personal, that the website reaps the rewards of its ambition.

Stories are enthralling and the honest, unedited lives of others are simply the most enthralling of all stories. Tell a story and people will listen, think and even change to far greater degrees than if you simply tell them to listen, think or change.

I have identified with so many different characters in so many different stories, with no requirement that they be anything like me. I project myself onto them, and when they act I think about how I would act. I think and I learn about myself.

My own ambitions as a writer are bound in my belief that the wholly personal story can be entirely universal. My confession may not be yours, my errors nothing like your own, but in talking truthfully about me I hope to prompt you to think and talk truthfully about you.

I believe there’s a best way to live, to think, to be and to act. Yet it’s not my place to tell you how to live or why. But I will tell you, if you want to listen, about how I made my decisions, and how I lived with them. I feel that will have greater impact on you.

If I’ve been disappointed in an article from The Good Men Project it’s because too often for me there’s a level of generalisation which I don’t appreciate, a level which goes against the story-driven heart of the project. ‘Most’ men? ‘Many’ guys? ‘In this society’?

There’s a far more productive world of discussion and action than this, but it’s borne out of the same tension I feel myself – something is wrong, and I can’t name it but I feel it, and I grasp for some sense by making general statements and casting judgements.

But this isn’t a constructive path. Generalisations serve no purpose and only detract from what might actually be being achieved, which for me is the exposure of those tensions, and how men and women are dealing with the changes around us.

We are people first and gender second. We must be, because we are people first and colour second, or nationality, or belief. We must be, because it’s the only thing we all truly share. Our differences don’t need pros and cons, they simply are.

Accept this and the question of what makes a man can only be a personal one. What sort of man can you live with being? What sort of man do you want to be? What I want or feel is only useful to give you a model, a comparison. No one can tell me how to be a man, but they can challenge my own feelings and thoughts about what being a man means.

These are the discussions I hope to read when I visit the site. How did you live with that decision and how does that make me feel about my own decisions? I’m not interested, actually, in the man you believe I should be, only in the man you believe you should be.

Again, at its best, this is what The Good Men Project can and does do.

The American flavour is unavoidable but I only ever struggle with some of the allusions, the phrases. Overall the questions, the worries and the tensions are all the same. Not to say there shouldn’t be a UK-centric one. I wish there was.

I still feel in a minority. The Good Men Project is a blinding light against men’s lifestyle guffspouts like Blokely, but that doesn’t mean we’re not still in a tunnel. There are a lot of bewildered men out there who don’t know, can’t accept or just aren’t being told that change is happening and it’s up to them to keep up or get left behind.

About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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