Teaching Men About Manhood
"Changing the world, one man at a time" - MKP motto
"Q: What do you get when you cross an ex-marine, a therapist and a business consultant?
A: The ManKind Project."
- Houston Press
Telling the story of an organisation one is a part of can be difficult. It can be hard to distance oneself and be objective, and for some, there's a tendency to get all excited and go on a recruiting drive. So I have set myself the challenge of balancing subjectivity and objectivity, and trying to avoid falling into the latter trap of evangelism.
I have been involved with the Mankind Project (MKP) for about two years, firstly as a member of a men's circle run under their guidelines, secondly as an initiate in their flagship men's weekend the "New Warrior Training Adventure" (NWTA) and thirdly as a staff volunteer at two NWTA weekends. It began, as so many of these things do, with a friend who has been involved for many years. He suggested that I attend a local men's meeting, the "iGroup", and I of course said I would.
Of course, even though I'd agreed to go, there was some unconscious resistance for a while, and finally he quit just inviting me and told me, via Christine, that he would be picking me up at quarter to seven on a particular Thursday evening. Now he and I had been talking about going out for a beer or whatnot, and at this invitation, I assumed that the object of the exercise was the consumption of a brew or two. He duly arrived, and armed with some beer vouchers, I eagerly hopped in his car. Of course, the direction he took was not right for the bars in town, so I assumed we were heading out of town to a local bar and grill. Once I finally figured out that discussion was to be sans biere, I was happy enough, but the telling of the story of how I came to be there was the source of much amusement to the other men present.
A little history
In 1984, three men, Rich Tosi, Bill Kauth and Ron Hering, designed an "experiential weekend" for men, designed to fill in some of the gaps they perceived were missing from men's lives in the post-industrial world. This was designed to be partly initiation, partly self-discovery of their manhood, and also to give men some new tools with which to examine themselves and live better lives.
Based on the work of Robert Bly, Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, this was the "Wild Man Weekend", the precursor to NWTA, and it was a great success. The weekend began with around twenty men, and word soon spread about the experience. From this grew the Mankind Project, now with dozens of centers worldwide. Most of the work is currently in the English-speaking nations, though France and Germany have active centers, and the weekend has recently been run in Costa Rica for the first time.
Since then, the work has extended into sponsoring local men's circles, the Integration groups, (iGroups). These were originally designed to enable new initiates to integrate what they had learned on the weekend into their lives, but have expanded to embrace those interested in doing "men's work", and as a mild introduction to the training weekend, which is still seen as the main thrust of the organisation.
Following from this, the organisation also offers mentoring for young men, and a similar weekend, through the Boys To Men venture.
So what is the Mankind Project all about?
Simply out, the organisation is intent on enabling men to make the best of themselves and become exemplars within their family, as well as the wider community. In this, they seem to have been successful - according to their website, over 43,000 men have attended the training, and there are hundreds of iGroups worldwide.
Part of the reason behind the success of the movement lies in its encouraging men to be honest with themselves. Men are encouraged to live lives of accountability, honesty and openness, always acting in a way that demonstrates their integrity. Men who have attended the weekend training will have created a personal mission statement, and all are encouraged always to keep this before them in their everyday dealings with family, colleagues, and all whom they meet.
There are several things in the background of the work they encourage men to do. Carl Jung's work on archetypes and shadow self is part of the system, and there are aspects of the mythopoetical men's movement and Native American elements. Whilst this all sounds rather like New Age "woo-woo" stuff, the focus is on having men look honestly within themselves in a highly pragmatic way, and make appropriate life changes.
As with any organisation, there are detractors. Rick Ross, an anti-cult advocate, has spoken out against the group, accusing them of using mind-control techniques on the training weekend. He claims that sleep deprivation, withholding food and home comforts, along with chanting and drumming, are used to make men more suggestible and malleable.
In 2005, one Michael Scinto committed suicide soon after attending a Texas NWTA weekend. Scinto's family filed a wrongful death suit against MKP, which was settled out of court. There have been many accusations in the press, notable the Houston Press, regarding activities both during the weekend trainings and afterward. Charges that MKP encourages homosexual behavior, non-Christian thinking and pagan values, are prevalent.
Many men who have attended the training have declared their dismay with elements of the events over the weekend, with lurid tales of naked men touching each other inappropriately, pagan ceremonies and orgies of dancing and chicken mutilation.
As to Michael Scinto, he was an abuser of various drugs before he went to the training, and was possibly not mentally fitted to get the best out of it, and of course, no-one can say how it would have gone with him had he not attended.
Is there nudity? Yes. It's voluntary, and I have only seen one man who declined to be skyclad. Dancing? Yes. A ceremony involving a chicken? Yes, though the chicken is both dead and cooked. Pagan ritual? There are occasions when archetypal spirits are called as part of a ceremony.
Is it worthwhile? I'd say so - I know that since my involvement with these men, I've grown in understanding of myself. Christine noticed a series of positive changes within me, and certainly the support I have had from men in local circles has helped me to cope with the many recent changes in my life.
I intend to volunteer again in the New Year. Being naked worries me not in the least, and being around honest, open men is refreshing. I may even get to be the Green Man again, and of course, there's always the chicken.
News report about MKP
Rick Ross on MKP