From Boy’s Town to Mature Masculinity

Toxic masculinity is not a symptom of being a man, it is a byproduct of ignoring natural masculine evolution. Boys need to evolve into men. Boy Energy needs to evolve into Mature Masculinity.

Toxic Masculinity is, in fact, stagnate Boy Energy.

Are we men or boys?

Becoming a man isn’t about getting older, it’s about evolving into a useful member of the tribe.

Unfortunately, evolving from boys into men is not supported in contemporary American culture and gay men’s culture as a subset of American culture is ignorant to, or actively ignores, the roles and responsibilities of mature men.

However, I’ve had a glimpse of what happens when the ideals of mature masculinity (as opposed to boy energy) are applied to my life. And I want more.

For me, Boy’s Town is a metaphor as much as it is any particular physical space. The term includes all the bars where I drank, the “sidewalk sales” afterwards, the house parties where I laughed, the gyms where I worked out, and the steam rooms where I cruised for sex. It’s a place for youth and young adults (under 35 years old) to explore who they are as men.

I’m not a youth or even a young adult.

I’m 54 and I’ve realized that I’m in the middle of grieving my time in Boy’s Town. That’s because it’s hard to let go of. I don’t see a clear road ahead to anyplace else. This grieving is a painful experience that nobody warned me was coming. It’s unexpected and that pisses me off.

But it’s as natural as the grief I’ve felt when moving from one city to another, from one relationship to another, or one job to another. Viewing my pain through this lens makes me excited for the adventure ahead.

Now it’s time to move from Boy’s Town to Man Country, a place where men celebrate their Mature Masculinity.

I’m fucking ready for that road trip!

The only problem is that Man Country appears to still be under construction. Finding examples of Mature Masculinity is difficult for all men but that is especially true for us gay men who have been reveling in our boy energy with our boyfriends in Boy’s Town for generations.

***

I’m done some sniffing around, mostly out of desperation, and learned some things about getting older.

Somewhere between being young men and being old men, an energetic transition needs to happen from Boy Energy to Mature Masculinity. If not, we all suffer.

It’s happening. This suffering is an epidemic in our country caused by the glorification of hero culture, but it affects gay men differently. Rather than hold close to the Boy Energy of Hero Culture that tells men they need to dominate through the use of destructive emotionlessness force, we gays hold on to the Boy Energy that tells us to dominate through sexual attractiveness, cute clothes, and shade.

Instead, we need to see ourselves as men, not boys.

Our ghettos are often called “boy’s town” and the moniker fits, but that’s because of our behavior more than the age of the guys there in the ghetto.

Guys who do not consciously evolve into Mature Masculinity usually stagnate in Boy Energy. That stagnation ripens into a stench. It’s not pretty. They become entitled Man-boys. That stagnate boy energy in old men is what people are calling “toxic masculinity”.

The public reaction to childish adult men is to demonize maleness itself, to make men bad, but men and masculinity are neither good nor bad. Eventual growth or stagnation depends on where you plant your seed and how you tend to what you’ve planted.

Stagnate Boy Energy causes pain for everyone.

Younger men feel the pain.

Without examples of mature masculinity to observe, our youth are adrift in the world without a compass to guide them, anyone to lean on for support, or any idea of what a thriving older gay man’s life looks like. They are left to sort out sex, body image, love, friendship, money, bio-family, chosen family, and spirituality all on their own or with the assistance of their similarly inexperienced gay brothers.

Each generation is forced to rediscover life on his own. The evolution from one generation to the next is stunted. Our community crawls rather than leaps forwards.

The next young gay man enters a lonely world he must discover on his own.

Older men feel the pain.

It comes from the emotional and spiritual stagnation of our existence in the realm of boys while our instincts are telling us we have so much more to give. Our experience has created knowledge, wisdom, and resources. But we have no one to share this with.

Our age has made us vulnerable to health issues, decreased social status, and loneliness due to the lack of non-club venues that would be attractive to older men looking for more intellectually engaged arenas to spar with others about the current state of the tribe and its path into the future.

Our fully developed elders live in loneliness until they and their wisdom wither, fade, and disappear without the transference of their knowledge, love, and leadership skills into the hands and hearts of those that follow them.  

The drag queen Jackie Beat addressed this stagnation as part of her act.

            You wanna hear a gay joke?

            A gay man walks into a bar.

            Every day for 50 years.

            Yeah, not so funny when you say it out loud.

As usual, an artist was able to illustrate our psychic pain long before we were able to articulate it. This “joke” illustrates the isolation and evolutionary stagnation gay men have felt for decades.

Toxic masculinity is not a symptom of being a man, it is a byproduct of ignoring natural masculine evolution. Boys need to evolve into men. Boy Energy needs to evolve into Mature Masculinity.

Toxic Masculinity is, in fact, stagnate Boy Energy.

Young men are not evolving, they are simply becoming old men without any thought of the responsibilities, efforts, and rewards of being a conscious mature man.  

***

So, what are the differences between Boy Energy and Mature Masculinity?

Boy Energy  Mature Masculinity
Possesses altruism, unbridled energy, naiveté (innocence) Possesses wisdom, generative energy, integrity
Self-identified Community-identified
Pursues pleasure and fun Pursues just and creative ordering
Manipulative action Disciplined action
Desires status and dominance in the community Desires order and wellbeing in the community
Encourages the release of chaotic energy (challenges the status quo)
Encourages stability by promoting the talents of other adult men and boys
Is unsure of his identity, making him boastful and suspicious of intimacy Is secure in his masculine identity, making him generous and open to love
DeconstructsStabilizes
Needs to be right Needs to understand

Several aspects of boy energy are useful, and that’s why we need to encourage our younger brothers, while they are still young (under 30), to revel in and be fully conscious of their Boy Energy: to feel the thrill of taking on the enemy, to have the idealism to fall in love, to be willing to break things. Those tools, and others, should remain within reach as we grow older so that they may be activated when circumstance calls for it.

Let me just say this plainly, Boy Energy is not bad.

It’s appropriate for boys.

It only becomes toxic when held on to for too long. Boy Energy was vital during our fights for civil rights. That’s because activism is suited to Boy Energy. Fight! Fight! Fight! Chaotic, deconstructing energy that knows it’s right. Rage and breaking things were and are useful while fighting our enemies.

We would not have gotten so far so fast during the plague without it.

***

But now it’s time to build.

It is important to hold on to the skills and generative attributes of Boy Energy such as altruism and innocence, but, when it’s time to become an adult, we need to let go of the limiting and destructive attributes of Boy Energy like dominance and the need to be right.

Again, holding on to Boy Energy beyond its sell-by date causes the stink of stagnation.

We stop building. We stop growing.

We flop around in an energy sucking bog of our own making. Exhausted from dragging each other down into the mud, we have no energy left to create a solid foundation the next generation can build upon.

We need to step away from that behavior and use our energy to till fertile soil so that our tribe may enjoy the fruits of wisdom, support, and unconditional love. If we do not, and it’s my opinion we have not, we live in a world of boastful, manipulative, frightened man-boys. These man-boys’ need for status and dominance, coupled with their natural identity insecurities, separate them from their gay brothers and the entire community suffers as a result.

***

The major work to be done in the current era of gay men’s evolution is to learn the difference between Boy Energy and Mature Masculinity, and when to move from one to the other.

This is what I’ve sorted out.

***

Boy Energy:

Our current president (Trump) is, unfortunately, a perfect example of stagnated Boy Energy. He’s what the authors Robert Moor and Douglas Gillette, in their book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover – Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine, identify as the “highchair tyrant”, an older man full of furious self-centered demands.

Here are my own examples of Boy Energy.

  • He uses the termadulating” to explain why he paid his rent on time, cleaned up after himself, or did anything that is not “fun”. 
  • He wears his adolescent behavior as a badge of superiority and bullies others, often with loud domineering behavior, and often in concert with other man-boys, if he receives any whiff of disapproval.
  • He avoids conflict, either by running away from it or retaliating with name calling or bringing up issues he knows will cause others pain.
  • He refuses to give up his style and dress like an adult even when the venue calls for it, like a wedding, a job interview, or a pretentious restaurant. Yeah, I get that some venues are pretentious. Mature Masculinity honors the venue’s right to be unique in its own way, or he chooses not to go. This is not about gender identification. Gender identity should never result in barriers. It’s about following the theme of the party.  Throwing a fit because the proprietor doesn’t appreciate your Marvel T-shirt and blinky tennis shoes just reveals a man unwilling to step into his manhood.
  • For him, sex is nothing but sport.
    He keeps score of the quality, quantity, and exoticness of every encounter and gladly interjects his current scoreboard or former highlights into as many conversations as possible, especially when he feels threatened of losing the attention of the group.
  • His car is an extension of his cock.
    It is not his “car”. It is not his “vehicle”. It is his “Beemer”, his “Bentley”, his “Mercedes”, or his “Harley”. I always wonder if these guys eat “Wonder” or “Oroweat” instead of “bread”.
    He has lots of couples photos with him and his car on social media.
  • He cannot be trusted to show up.
    He only shows up to a fraction of the events he marks as “Going” to on Facebook. He waits until the last minute to commit to anything because it’s his access to entertainment that matters, not the logistical challenges of the party’s host, or the commitments he has made to his “friends”.

***

Mature Masculinity:

Our last President (Obama) was a good example of Mature Masculinity. Essentially, these are attributes of a man who is not toxic or swampy. He has integrated the four Jungian masculine architypes of King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover.

  • He is more interested in understanding then being right.
    He can discuss religion, politics, and money because he approaches topics from a state of open curiosity rather than one of prescriptive dominance (being right).
    He is able to explore an idea with someone who holds the opposite view.
  • He is willing to talk about commitment.
    It might be about showing up for plans next weekend, discussing monogamy vs. polyamory, being honest about his interest in parenting, or buying a house.
    He is able to respectfully disagree.
    He does not change the subject or suddenly leave the premises to avoid an uncomfortable topic.
  • He keeps his world in order.
    He does not require supervision to clean up after himself, pay his bills, get a job, respond to invitations.
    He seeks advice more than assistance.
  • He asks for help.
    His humility enables him to seek advice from Elders and experts.
    He makes no demands on them to fix his problems.
    He uses their insight to develop his own plan for action.
  • He accepts responsibility for his decisions.
    He understands that his decisions have impacts on others and he is willing to acknowledge those impacts.
    He admits when he’s wrong.

***

Mature Masculinity requires us, as gay men, to fundamentally change how we view our social responsibilities regarding our brothers.

It requires us to be more than fighters and fuckers.

It requires us to be consciously aware of our social responsibilities for our brothers.

It requires us to create, bless (high-five), and protect things that are in the best interest of the entire tribe.

***

Good news! Gay men have the intellect, the resources, and the creative energy to maintain what is great about Boy Energy while simultaneously moving those of us, when the time is right, onto the path of the Mature Masculine.

Look at what happened when we were faced with a lethal pandemic. We had the brains, the heart, and the courage to fundamentally change how we are seen and how we are served by the greater society. That’s fucking huge!

Now, it is time to change how we see ourselves and how we are served by our own institutions and social groups.

The LGBT Center needs more programming that is specific to gay men.

The Center is a beacon of hope for all queer people, but its focus is on those most in need: the homeless, elderly, youth, women, and transgender and left this work undone. Men are privileged. That’s a fact in today’s culture. However, being privileged does not mean I don’t feel pain, loneliness, and shame. It does mean, that men are left to do our own community building. That includes transitioning gay individuals from boys into men.

This blog is meant to start an authentic conversation, to knock open the door of new possibilities, to take action, to hold ourselves accountable, 

This blog is meant to start an authentic conversation, to take action, and to hold myself accountable for creating movement on these ideas that grip my soul. 

I imagine a physical space designed with the values of Mature Masculinity in mind, a place where men lead lives informed by their inner Lovers, Warriors, Magicians, and Kings.

Listen, every gay man has already lived a hero’s journey. Each of us has be forced out of the known into the unknown. We have faced challenges and temptations, usually alone, where we sorted out allies, mentors, and beasts. We have slain the dragon of oppression, both external and internal. Part of us has died and is reborn, usually to such an extent that others see that change in us when we return to our place of origin.

From that place, we can make this next expression of gay men’s existence, brilliant in its satisfaction, dignity, and joy.


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Real Love

I’ve loved Ted for 52 years.

Aside from my birth parents, this is the longest relationship of my life. The fact that it’s a relationship with an inanimate teddy bear does not change the fact that I truly and deeply love this hunk of fabric, fiber, and buttons.

Love is mysterious.

My teddy bear and I met 52 years ago when I was only two years old, shopping with my mom at a garage sale in North Platte, Nebraska. At least that’s what I’m told. I don’t remember. It was 1967 and I was two years old.

Grandma Derra found two buttons in her ample sowing kit that became perfect eyes for my new best friend.

Knowing he had already had his eyes and most of his fur loved off of him (at least that’s the story of his haggard appearance that I choose to believe) I felt that he brought important wisdom to our relationship. He had been there for another young boy or girl and was now ready to handle the needs a new little boy, a boy whose parents were about to divorce. 

I named him “Ted”, an act of irony I felt was unappreciated by the adults and other children around me.

This ode to Ted was written 12 years ago as a writing exercise. I had recently broken up with a man I was not ready to let go. Using the writing prompt, “who or what was an early love?”

This is what poured out.

My boyfriend Dennis took this when I introduced him to Ted.

Ted, you have been with me for 42 years now.

Your fur is mostly rubbed off and the holes I did surgery on when I was six years old, meant to keep your stuffing inside, have reappeared.

You’re back on my bed again.

Back because Keith left me and went back to San Francisco, back on my bed again because someone has chosen to leave me, just like mom did when I was two.

Were you in my bed back then too Ted?

Smelling like garage dust because we had bought you second hand at a yard sale? It must have been you there keeping me company when my young parents argued and ended their marriage.

Mom is the only one who has told me the story of their breakup. How her drinking and crazy nature were the cause of it. It’s interesting that she is the only one who told me how it all played out since I ended up living with Dad.

Ted, you must have been there in that tiny bedroom I can now barley remember, first door on the right, off the living room in our single wide trailer home.

Ted, you must have been there because you are still here with me today, waiting patiently, if not a little decrepitly, on top of the boxes I store thousands of dollars worth of cycling clothes in. You usually sit facing my new fancy mattress that sits in my new fancy West Hollywood condo.

You sit patiently and wait with unconditional love even though you have been shut away in closets while I lived with Steve Chaison, and Tony Peruzzi, and John Nieto, men who shared my bed for five-year stints or died in a hospital room leaving me no one to come home to except you, Ted.

Ted, you have soaked up tears of a child left behind, have been pushed aside to make way for fucking, you have endured my private shame as a bed wetter, and you have placidly worn satin outfits I made for you out of scraps found in my step-mom’s sewing basket.

You came with me to Tucson to visit Mom in the psych ward. Your presence told her instantly that consoling love had arrived. She pulled you close to her heart and soaked in twenty-five years of reassurance.

She was unhappy when the attendants would not allow you to stay with her overnight, but I was secretly glad to be able to hold you while waiting for her to find enough healing to be released.

You see Ted, between my parents and you, it’s been you that’s been there the most for me.

You were there to calm my 8-year-old nerves when I was alone in bed and monsters in the trees threatened to crawl through the window of our first house on 6th Street in North Platte, Nebraska.

You were there to commiserate with when my stepmom gave her daughter the bigger room and the canopy bed in Cheyenne Wyoming.

You were there when I unpacked the box marked “Mike’s Room” in Pocatello, Idaho after my parents moved (unannounced) from Wyoming to Idaho, couching the information in a birthday card they sent to their son who was five thousand miles away on an adventure picking pineapples on Maui.

Nearly hairless and formless, you have never given up on me Ted.

Your fancy button eyes sewn on by Grandma Derra have steadfastly kept their gaze on me for over four decades. Watching and waiting for my need of comfort to return. Your threadbare head is ready to be nuzzled by your boy. I know you can’t help it that that wire pokes out from your ear and jabs my tender lips.

Nose-less and mouth-less you exist only for my solace, seeking nothing for yourself.

How could I possibly not love you as fiercely as I do?


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Pool Party: Contempt & Love

…under that wave of fear is a desire to connect heart-to-heart with true friends – to share love – to be able to see people I know and love them and feel their love in return.That’s the good stuff. That’s the true Holy Grail I seek. Until now, I have found it hard to admit, even to myself, that I want it so bad.

It’s Sunday morning on the last day of June and it’s time for me to participate in a Southern California ritual that still makes me uncomfortable.

The pool party, or more specifically, a gay pool party.

This one is at an impressive home literally under the HOLLYWOOD sign. I know the host and have been to this location before. Guests will be able to see the HOLLYWOOD sign above, a view of Hollywood Lake below, and the skyline of the City of Los Angeles in the distance. It’s stunning.

Since I’ve been trying to identify my emotions lately, let’s unpack what happens during the arch of the event, starting with the instant I become aware of the party’s existence.  

Immediately I feel contempt.

That’s right, my out of the gate feeling is not gratitude, excitement, or anticipation, it’s contempt.

I feel the contempt as tension in my upper chest, the back of my neck, and the top of my skull. I tell myself the contempt is because I’m above the need for beautiful houses, beautiful views, and beautiful bodies.

That’s right. I lie to myself.

Under that feeling of contempt are the feelings of fear and jealously born out of my fragile-male-ego-Facebook-comparison-capitalistic-consumer, need to compete. My ego tells me I need to come out on top as the prettiest, most entertaining, guy with the most toys and prettiest friends.

You know, a “winner”.

To feel comfortable, I feel like I need to be dominate in the socially elevated arenas of money, property, and prestige that come from possessing two superficial things: 1) resources and 2) beauty.

Ugg! Rather than being above it, I’m a poster child for conspicuous consumption.

The pool party is a perfect time to exercise the kind of conspicuous consumption Thorstein Veblen discussed in his nearly 100 year old essay The Theory of the Leisure Class. The party is an arena to enjoy publicly displaying our resources and beauty, or maybe acquiring said treasures so that we might move up the social ladder and be accepted by the ruling class – whoever that is.

But, what is really going on here?

Well, feeling contempt is my way of protecting myself from confronting my vulnerable truth. What’s really going on is that I’m afraid, afraid of not being enough. I feel the fear in my gut and in the shallowness of my breathing. I have fear that my now waning beauty or moderate income don’t possess enough social prestige. I fear that I won’t measure up.

And yet, I persist on going. Why?

Well, under that wave of fear is a desire to connect heart-to-heart with true friends – to share love – to be able to see people I know and love them and feel their love in return.That’s the good stuff. That’s the true Holy Grail I seek. Until now, I have found it hard to admit, even to myself, that I want it so bad.

I want to belong. I want love.

That’s why I write this blog and teach yoga the way I do. I want to give and receive unqualified love to and from my gay brothers.

But that’s too scary to confront. So, let’s talk about what’s not scary, you know, profile pictures. With the Facebook invite open, it’s time to dive into what really matters – assessing who is invited.  

Who is “Going”?

There are usually one of three reactions to the list:
1) Being appalled at the unattractive crowd,
2) Being overwhelmed by the crowd’s beauty, or
3) Seeing that although you won’t be the hottest guy there, at least you’re within striking distance of the top tier hotties.

The real reason I’m looking forward to this party is that I’ve been working on my body and know that it will present adequately AND the more important reason, the reason that makes this in an investment in my current happiness and my future contentment, is that a few of my gay family will be there.

I have taken clear unambiguous steps towards identifying my gay “family”. Through a ritualized process, we have committed to each other our trust, honor, and respect.

With that comfortably sorted in my mind (who is most important in my life) I am able to shift my focus from conspicuous consumption to sharing love with my family.

It’s not a light switch I change from off to on, from superficiality to love, it’s more like setting down to meditate in an attempt to still the monkey chatter of my mind. The intension is clear, but sometimes the thousand thoughts remain.

It’s the intension that matters and it’s a constant effort.

In yoga the effort is called Dharana, the practice of focusing the mind on a single point. In Darren Main’s book Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic, he illustrates the utility of the 6th limb of yoga. He shows the pragmatism of Dharana. It’s not just a practice of focusing the mind. It’s not a practice of set it and forget it. It’s a practice of focusing the mind, acknowledging it’s drifted away, and returning back to the intention of focusing the mind. That’s Dharana, focus, drift, focus, drift… That gets us to the 7th limb, but that’s not what this post is about.

Even the ancient yogi’s acknowledged that the human mind’s condition of drifting away from single pointed thought is normal and should be expected, even accepted. The key is NOT to judge ourselves for having monkey brain in the first place. Our practice is to NOT judge ourselves for being afraid, or anxious, or full of contempt.

So they developed a tool for getting us back to where we want to be.

When I’m overwhelmed with up scaling my social prestige through conspicuous consumption, I give myself a break, acknowledge that my ego is doing its job of trying to protect me, and then bring back into focus what really matters; the smiles on my true friends faces when I’ll see them, the comfortable hugs we will exchange, and the beauty of the heart to heart connected love we will share in that moment.


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Yoga is Prayer in Motion

Like a prayer.

Yes. It was indeed, just like a prayer. In a studio packed with yoga practitioners, I felt my soul being revealed. In that up-dog during a hot MODO yoga class, a sacred feeling overtook me.

The physical stress of that class was intense and uncomfortable. It fit my mood as a man no longer living in the same house as my husband, a husband I was in the active process of divorcing. Somewhere in the breath between down-dog and up-dog, the tears of clarity came to me a fell freely, gently opening my heart.

The memory is so clear to me: I am in my body; this is now. I’m breathing deep, lungs fully expanded; sweat streaming off my body and nearly every other yogi present, all bodies fiercely beautiful, a shared intention. A ritual revealed.

That’s when the 200-hour teacher training I had recently completed, hit me. I’m ready…to endure grief and the unknown.

The clarity came to me in that sweaty moment when I connected to…to…what?

I had known physical intensity before this. Having been a ballet dancer and a WeHo gym boy preparing for the White Party, I know what it’s like to work a body hard. This was different. On that Tuesday night’s “workout” I needed the concentration. In the tears and the sweat, sharing space with the human steam of other bodies, I touched peace. I found surrender.

This is what yoga is for me today, a ritual to uncover authenticity. I am honored to be sharing my journey and invite you to come take class with me.

My teaching has evolved over the last two years as I’ve lead specialized naked classes for gay men; at first it was just in the fetish community. Now I am teaching twice a month at Flux Rebellion, on Melrose, across from Fairfax High School. I’ve recently re-connected to a dear friend who has a dance studio in Pasadena that will be conducive and comfortable not only for yoga, but community and hang out space before and after. Exposed brick! What gay man can resist exposed brick?

A lot is possible. I look forward to sharing this path with you.

Drama Club: A kiss that saved my life

Inside my new memoirDrama Club  

During the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, Bart and I attended a ballroom dance camp held on the campus of BYU. In our shared dorm room, my life realigned after our first kiss and I no longer had thoughts of killing myself.

Only two months earlier another boy had my heart soaring through joy filled fantasies of a perfect future together. “You look like Superman,” I said looking directly into Bart’s eyes as we lay facing one another on a tiny dorm room bed. We were dressed and ready to head out to dinner with our ballroom dance teammates, but had found we shared more in common than our fashion sense. “Shut up!” He giggled, looking away, and just as quickly turning his face back to mine. Our eyes stayed locked together. I heard the sound of my own heart pounding in my ears. The smell of his Polo cologne was intoxicating, and our knees were touching sending bursts of passion through my entire body. 

When he stopped smiling, panic gripped me. Was he going to freak out? And then, as if we were two celestial bodies caught in each other’s gravity, we moved together and kissed. Our lips touched, and a surge of truth and ecstasy rushed into me. The kiss that was supposed to be so wrong simply wasn’t, and if it was wrong, it was worth risking everything.” 


These photos were taken in the wedding reception hall we used for ballroom dance rehearsals in the Pocatello. Bart is in the Micky Mouse shirt and I’ve forgotten the names of two girls. 


Head of the table

Half unpacked. 

Woke up at my parent’s with only my mom occupying the large property, she on one side of the respectable house she and my father literally built with their own hands, while I was on the other. We came together in the kitchen. She cooked us eggs and bacon as I made small talk about music. 
Then she asked me to sit down and eat. 

“Why don’t you sit in dad’s seat,” she said. I moved into the seat I’d never sat in before, fell silent and swallowed the emotions that came up. “Do you mind if we say grace,” my Mormon mother asked me. We’d never eaten a meal at home without praying first. 

I reached over and gave her forearm a squeeze. “Please do. Really, mom, I’d really love that.” 



Purchased loyalty

The huge cake sits forlorn on a conference room table. 

The few faithful gather near as the room’s negative space grows heavy with expectation. The clock ticks. Phones are pulled from pockets and digital numbers document reality. The farewell party started ten minutes ago. No one speaks.

Until, “At least the weather is good for your last day!” 

Nods all around from the fistful of suits.


A cascade of invitations has preceded this gathering. Another shoots now from the latest in hand held tech! The departing sycophant’s protector in action. Purchased loyalty repaid.

The cheap decorations call out to no one, clinging to the walls, embarrassed by their own vulgarity.

www.mikelgerle.com  

Forget the objective, learn how to network

Works well with others.

According to whom?

The news today is reporting that military vets are not doing well in the marketplace because they tend to walk directly to their desks and begin working without first making a swing around the office to chat with their coworkers. They don’t do well because they see clear distinctions in roles and responsibilities based on job titles. They see rank and have expectations of behavior based on a defined hierarchy. They expect organizations to operate according to clear designations. They don’t understand how to “network.”

I relate a lot to this “problem.”

At the core of my being, I believe that having clear roles is the most efficient, and honest, way to operate an organization. But I also know with certainty that I operate in a culture that abhors honest distinctions in power, class, and (paradoxically) culture.

For instance, as a subordinate, I was corrected for addressing power brokers as “Mr. Lastname.” Conversely, I had fellow subordinates tell me that, “She (our executive) is just like everyone else,” when we were discussing the management style of our leadership team. When I pointed out that the boss had her own parking space, her own office, and the ability to fire us, my coworkers looked at me as if I’d suddenly started speaking Klingon.

When searching for answers to why my ideas for improvement had been ignored, I was told that that my problem was not what I had said, but how I had said it. I was told that I was technically proficient, but my products don’t really matter if people felt the least bit of resistance to what I was proposing. I was told that people needed to be motivated by something other than logic, return on investment, and goal driven value.

Now I get it, I live in Southern California. That is just the reality I live in. So a while back I changed my behavior, started spending more time talking about the weather, offspring, and commuting routes. Now my ideas are embraced with gusto even though they are less developed because of all the time I spend on “networking.”

I am now being “effective,” but let’s be honest.

I am working well with other according to rules that have little to do with the organization’s stated objectives. I’m an analyst not a networker, so I’m not being me. The networking culture is a culture of pretention. We pretend to be about objectives when in fact we are about the old high school popularity game.

It is a culture of conformity. It does not respect the culture of the objective thinkers. It does not respect the culture of the veteran who quantifies effort towards the stated objective as paramount. It pretends that leaders are not required to lead and that subordinates are never devalued.

Worst of all, it pretends to be “embracing” by forcing us to all to agree that we all agree even when we don’t.
 

Harry Potter’s Professor Delores Umbridge was a model of polite, happy, leadership. She only required one thing: Fall in line.

Quality over quantity

Contemporary culture would have us believe that all endings are bad – that a perfect world is one where no one dies, no one ends a relationship, and no club or institution ever closes its doors.

This fantasy places our intentions in the wrong place. Instead of investing in the quality of our own lives, our relationships, and our institutions, we shoot for something far less important – longevity.

Tragic deaths are not the ones that leave grieving friends and family to ponder the rich full life of the deceased. Tragic deaths are the ones of individuals who never had a chance to touch their individual greatness.

Relationships that build up the dignity and joy of the individuals involved do not suddenly become failures when the couple grows in different directions. If both members of the couple have invested in honesty and integrity, their six month relationship may serve its purpose – preparing each for an even better (maybe even longer) relationship with someone else or perhaps living a happy single life.

Clubs and institutions may need to close their doors to allow the energy they have created to be released into the world where it can be transformed into something even better.

Focusing our intentions on quality requires more emotional risk, more introspection, and more creative thought than the mindless trudge towards uninspired longevity.

Quality requires all of that effort for sure, but the returns are high. Focusing our expectations on excellence rather than survival creates lives we actually want to live, relationships we will miss when they are gone, and institutions that are relevant to those that they serve.

MikelGerle.com