Humans have been around for a long time, but unfortunately we haven’t evolved as fast as maybe would have been helpful. Western European culture invaded America intent on manifesting their destiny and subsequently destroyed anyone (or any tribe) in its path. That reckless culture has permeated for generations, and the societal norms of old western Europe are still deeply embedded in our nation’s current culture and identity.

Silence and “manning up” (traits that were once necessary for survival) no longer serve us, gender roles and the structures of romantic relationships have significantly shifted, and gender itself is going out the window. So where do all of these significant societal shifts leave men and their feelings?

So many of our men are taught to bury their emotions, never show weakness, and are not offered the tools to explore and process their grief, happiness, and rage. This disconnection translates to an emotionally truncated society ill-equipped to deal with the rapidly changing dynamics of the Internet age.

The toxic masculinity that has permeated America isn’t hard to see. Just open Twitter and read the latest tweet/rant from our Commander-in-Chief. It not only manifests itself on the web, but, with the alarming statistic that one in five American women will be raped in their lifetime, the actions perpetrated by this toxicity often creates generational trauma.

Ending toxicity starts with how we raise our boys and support their emotional growth and exploration. As they grow up, men living lives devoid of emotional support from friends, family members, or counselors can find that the layers of trauma, loneliness, and profound sadness compound over the years. This is not to say all emotionally disconnected men are toxic — far from it actually. Many men that I know are living in intense emotional silence, and it is easy to see the burden weighing heavy on their hearts.

Enter EVRYMAN — an organization founded in 2016 that offers men the opportunity to connect with their feelings in non-judgmental spaces with other men. Weekend retreats in the woods with random strangers pouring their heart out may sound like the last thing most men in your life would ever want to do — but when we look at the suicide rates of men in America (middle-aged men are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than women) one must wonder: maybe there’s something there that needs our urgent attention.

EVRYMAN seems like a deep breath of fresh air for everyone that has participated and discussed it. Many say that a huge weight has been lifted from their shoulders after soldiering through the woods for a few days on one of the many retreats offered throughout the year. Also taking place are men’s groups in many major cities that frequently meet to provide space for members to be vulnerable and discuss their feelings. Not only does the organization create space for emotions, but its very existence helps to de-stigmatize men’s vulnerability in our society.

When I first heard about EVRYMAN, I was hopeful but wondered if it would be successful. Are men seriously going to spill their hearts to strangers? I wondered. Are they really ready to be vulnerable?

It turns out that they are.

Having been all over the news lately, EVRYMAN retreats are filling up quickly. Maybe the time is now when men really are ready to unearth all of which they were taught to bury. The layers of sadness, rage, anxiety, and stress can finally be addressed. They’re not permanent — and what a relief that must be! But it takes effort and a level of vulnerability and bravery from which most dudes would run.

I can’t even begin to count how many relationships I’ve witnessed fall apart because of a lack of genuine communication. When one or both sides of the partnership are unable to communicate their emotions, what chance is there for long-term growth? Silence in relationships is a fast track to an early demise. The most successful relationships that are present in my life are those where both partners feel entirely open to communicate all of their emotions to their partner. One particular couple I know takes time before bed to talk out anything that the day may have brought up for them, which gives them a fresh and stronger slate for the next morning. Their love is palpable to all who encounter them.

When thinking about EVRYMAN, I can’t help but wonder what our society would be like if it were socially acceptable for men and boys to have a full spectrum of emotions at all times?

Where would we be in regards to equity and justice if men weren’t carrying around years of PTSD, loneliness, and unchecked sadness all the time? What would our relationships be like? What would our communities be like? What would our governmental systems be like? What would our men be like?

I spend a lot of time envisioning futures that look entirely different from our realities as a way of manifesting them. We can’t be what we can’t see. So there’s profound gratitude in my heart for an organization like EVRYMAN that’s helping men see that they can live lives full of joy, brotherhood, and vulnerability — a far cry from those manifest destiny days.

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects up social and environmental justice issues.

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