There is a phrase you may have heard, “Close your back doors”. It relates to a parable about commitment versus addiction.
The story goes something like this: A man is on his couch drinking beers and watching the football game when a knock comes on the front door. The man peeks through the curtain and sees some cops outside, plus a firetruck, a T.V. and news truck. Some nosey neighbors are starting to assemble.
“Oh Jeezuss!” the man cries, and he knocks over the coffee table, runs into the kitchen, through the back door, out the back yard, jumps over the fence and runs down the alley. Presently he finds himself on a bar stool in Tijuana Mexico and he wonders how he got there.
In the second scenario the man knocks over the coffee table, runs through the kitchen, opens the back door and stops. He hesitates for a moment and then he quietly closes the back door. He turns and walks back to the front door. He turns the knob, opens the front door and steps out to face the light of day.
Coming through the front door is a metaphor for facing tough realities squarely, overcoming fear and not running away. It is about taking responsibility and taking a risk to live in integrity. Have you ever faced a tough challenge and “come through the front door”? Write and tell us about it.
Craig Webb Originally published October 31st, 2017 in Motomomen.com
Volunteering gives me an opportunity to gain insight into my character and grow as a man. Each opportunity is temporal and growth is halting but I provide myself small chances to change my character when working as part of a team.
Recently I applied to volunteer and join the Production team. My tribe-mate applied for the Packing-Day team.
Previously our tiny tribe, which is dispersed across states, discussed the possibility of us all coming together for packing day so we could meet face-to-face. I had fielded the idea of coming up to visit the Packing Day Team and bringing up some snack or something.
A manager called and told me that they were short men for the Packing Day team. I was asked to volunteer both for packing day as well as production.
Immediately the little monkeys in my mind started to chatter. The monkey-chatter came fast and furious in two waves.
The first wave was “I don’t wanna.” I’m too busy; I’ll have to give up my weekend. It will be boring. That first wave then was superseded by the second wave – “How much am I ready to give?”
How much am I ready to give to other volunteers?
How much am I ready to give to call participants?
How much am I ready to give to pay my way?
How much am I ready to give to support enrollment?
How much am I ready to give to support my production buddy?
How much am I ready to give to lead my tribe?
How much am I ready to give to solve problems?
How much am I ready to give to be prepared?
How much am I ready to give to have my life handled?
How much of me do I want to give?
I listened and observed these monkeys in my head. It was my ego kicking in, measuring my willingness to participate. What was a safe, acceptable measurement of participation? What walls could I put up, where could I hide? What lies might pass muster?
I recognized that I was not fully enrolled. I did not own the result. My commitment was conditional.
My tribe-mate and other men were planning to drive 12 hours up from Kentucky and Georgia. They were making a huge sacrifice and commitment. In comparison, I was worried about how much it would cost to take the train to Hartford.
Being conditional about commitments does not work. Commitment means “No matter what”. I tamped down my chattering monkeys and decided to own the result.
Even including me, the team was short men and Packing Day was only a week away. I started calling men, looking for help. I called men who I had not talked to for quite some time, for years, some of them.
Every man said no. I heard my own negative arguments reflected back at me. Like a story in a book, each man responded predictably, according to character.
I have experienced having insight into my character in this way many times over the years. Each time is a new opportunity to change and grow my context.
Whenever an offsite or Motomo event, or a Weekend comes up, I am scared. It is scary for me to leave my safe comfortable home and put my trust, security and well being, at least partially in the care of others, in pursuit of a goal where I don’t know how the full commitment is going to play out. The chattering monkeys in my head go into frenzy every time.
My chattering monkeys need to be ignored. What I’ve learned over the years is that when I go to whatever the event is and come out the other side, I tell myself “Wow what a great time I had.” My fears are overblown and unfounded.
Once I got fully committed the event was easy. I rode up with the women. I was amazed how many men and women volunteered for Packing Day. We had a blast. Afterwards we went out for dinner and enjoyed each other’s company.
As it turned out, Packing Day WAS that Weekend. Not enough people registered for the Coed Weekend; it has been postponed and maybe cancelled.
Previous volunteer experiences have taught me to embrace ownership, responsibility and to produce the result.
When I was in college I was a volunteer for a student art and literary magazine. We went out and begged students to submit work for publication. We hired a photographer to assist students to submit their work, organized a jury to select work for publication and we put together and printed the magazine. Finally we had to go out and sell the magazine, sitting at tables in the student cafeteria and persuade bookstores to carry our magazine.
The Magazine Editor, Martha P. Hogan, used to make an ironic joke, quoting the children’s story, The Little Red Hen, “Now who will help me EAT the bread?” She quipped. It did not seem fair that we had to work so hard to give so much, and then we had to go out and push sales too. But that is what we needed to do.
(We got to work so hard and give so much, and we even had an opportunity to push sales.)
Later, I became the Editor. In addition to publishing art, poetry and short stories, we also interviewed a famous artist or writer and published the interview in our magazine.
Some years before, a different set of volunteers had served who seemed to me to be mysteriously cool. One man in particular had once been involved with the magazine and was also the leader of a rock band and a radio announcer on the college radio station. Manny Rettinger had also started a record company and an art magazine, amongst other things. I wondered how he did so much. He seemed to be everywhere.
I enlisted a volunteer to interview the prolific musician. I wanted to know how he did it, what made him tick?
The writer came back from the interview with his story. I read it and found this answer:
“When people say they want to have a scene, I fear that what they really mean is they would like to have a scene exist so they can have fun in it but they don’t want to build it.
It’s mainly my whole point that I want to have a scene, too, just like everyone else. But I’m going to go out there and do it. And that’s what I need to see: people coming out and actually, physically doing it. It should grow as people grow and not become so closed so that when new blood arrives there is no room.
And you have to work your ass off to keep it from falling down, because it’s not going to stand up by itself.”
What I get from volunteering is an awareness that I can do more, and a willingness to give. I get to join with a fun team, who are willing to make personal sacrifices and work towards a higher purpose. I learn about other people, about myself, and how I relate to other people.
Most of all I get to see and recognize the limitations that I put on myself. Learning to recognize and overcome those self-imposed limitations provides a spiritual transformation that gives me what I need to show up for other people in my community and grow.
Asking for help is one of the hardest things to do in our society. The icons of the self-made man, the singular hero, the army of one are common themes in cinema. Keeping people isolated is profitable to certain corporate interests who cater to fill the gap left by persons being alone.
One very important training that men receive in teams is to learn to not do things alone, to work as a team. The very first task given to the men on the new training team is impossible to do alone, although men try. Many men struggle with the taboo of asking for help.
Because asking for help is so alien to men’s experience, so difficult for men to do, Men’s Teams teach men how to ask for help.
The cost of doing things alone is very high in our society. Historically societies have always worked together to get things done – hospitals, fire safety, libraries, postal service are all ancient examples of teamwork written large.
Not being able or not knowing how to ask for help can be painful and spiritually poisonous.
Once while walking home I found a grocery bag full of kittens in a trash can. The kittens had been recently born. Their eyes were still closed.
Outraged, I took the bag of kittens home. I bought a can of condensed milk and attempted to feed the kittens, but the milk fell out of their mouths and made a mess.
I started to call for help. I called the ASPCA. At first they didn’t answer at all and when they did they said they don’t help with abandoned kittens. The local veterinary clinics also said they would not help me with the kittens. The local pet stores also did not want abandoned kittens.
Finally I called an organic pet store and they gave me the number of a woman who they said might help me. I called the woman and told her my story of how i found the kittens. She was silent on the phone and I thought she was angry and maybe crazy.
I told her about trying to feed the kittens with condensed milk. Finally she spoke. “Stop feeding them condensed milk. Their stomachs can’t digest that.” she said. She asked me for my address and I gave it to the crazy cat lady.
The cat lady came over in a car and gave me a tiny baby bottle for kittens and half a can of powdered kitten milk. She showed me how to mix the powdered milk with water and feed the kittens. They drank the kitten milk!
The cat lady came back a week later with more kitten milk. We kept in touch and I fed the kittens and weaned them over six weeks. They crawled out of the kitten box and pooped all over my bedroom and I litter-box trained them. Then the cat woman came and took my kittens to the rich part of Queens and gave them away to new homes.
I’ve often thought about whoever it was who put the kittens into the trash. How desperate they must have been. How soul sickeningly out of options they must have felt. So ashamed and guilty. So alone and unable to ask for help.