Looking at Men from 38,000 Feet



Men are at risk.


I listened to a talk by Marianne Williamson yesterday, one of the wisest and most spiritual people I know.  She was talking about the mythological and psychological underpinnings that shape the way we think about and act in our lives and relationships.  Deep within – and the psychologist Carl Jung would say among – our minds, powerful forces of meaning shape the way we think . . . and, therefore, act.  We are seldom aware of what’s there, but from these realms come strong fears, assumptions, expectations and hopes, and without being consciously aware of them, our actions are moved by them.  Marianne offered a powerful connection between these potent, murky depths in our consciousness and the significant surface of our economic and social life, and concluded: These are especially difficult times for men.


The compelling suggestion we discussed – and I’d love to hear from you on – is this:  Men have been equipped to work, to lift and toil, to exert, to direct and manage, and if necessary even to fight.  We are programmed, deep in our minds and cells, to protect and to provide.  And now many men are adrift in a massive sea change.  Women already outnumber men in supervisory positions.  Soon they will outnumber men in the workforce altogether.  And “women’s characteristics” are increasingly valued in the workplace:  cooperation, collaboration, relationship, listening, tolerance, diversity are surpassing assertion, competition, and command – let alone aggression.  These changes challenge men in the white collar world.


The blue collar world is even more treacherous for men.  Automation and low wage global competition continue to suck men’s jobs from Michigan and America.  And so men wonder: How do I provide?  How do I protect? Where is my place?  How do I adapt to a world, where I can’t find a “real job” and where (hopefully) my wife is able to step in and lead?  


In all candor: I live in this world, where the footing is hard to find.  I was born and raised to provide and protect.  Anyone who has a son knows this: if you don’t give us guns or spears…we will make them!  At our best, we have nobly protected: put up with grimy factories, or in my dad’s case, stultifying corporate bureaucracies.  But now we struggle to find a new way.  Many of us exult as our wives and daughters soar, yet it’s a treacherous time to find our own footing, to learn to play # 2, to learn to nurture our kids, and to figure out both at work and at home, nothing less than what it means to “be a man.”  I can’t protect my wife from a Republican attacker or media assailant, no matter how much my wiring stimulates me to do so.  (Clearly: she does not need my defense.)


It’s not surprising many men feel like they’re under a cultural-economic attack.  We’re chromosomally-ready to fight back.  But against whom?  And how?  Glenn Beck and his ilk would have us fight “socialism,” or we can buy guns, or we can fight immigrants (there is legitimate substance to those issues, but there’s also some misplaced frustration at work beneath it all).  The truth is our predicament is not caused by socialism but by global capitalism that has changed the battlefield for us.  We can’t change that!!!  India, China, Brazil – they’re not going backwards (and by the way most of them are a lot more socialistic than we are).  No.  We can’t go back to some supposedly wonderful former America (ask Blacks, women, and gays about how wonderful it was for that 70% or so of our populace).  Global competition, fast-change, automation, the internet, diversity and (thank goodness) super competent women are here to stay.


Maybe we need to look not just to external reforms – health care and tax policy – but also to internal reforms:  cultural and spiritual, and certainly educational changes.  We need to train for brains not brawn in a way-big way.  And, men let’s treasure the impulse to protect and provide, but also talk about how we improvise and innovate.  Let’s find ways to raise boys and “be men” in this new and evolving world.  I’m confident we can adapt to  


Lead with our best selves,




  • Dan,
    This is very insightful. It’s a great start for the week. Men are facing many new realities, and we can’t simply react by fighting to regain “the good old days.” Dr. Ben Bartlett, of MSU Extension, wrote in an issue of Michigan Cattleman about twenty years ago, “Change is inevitable. Do you want to be its victim or its architect?” I think we’d better ready our architect’s tools!

  • Dan, interesting post. As a female who has encountered a lot of “bad old days” in my career as an engineer and entrepreneur, I liked your point that we don’t want to go back. But what really struck me were the last lines of your post emphasizing “improvise and innovate.” The Maker Faire (www.makerfaire.com or read the wikipedia entry on it) movement is a perfect example of a productive way to bring people together, and create a culture of innovation that we could use in Michigan to help people who might not self-identify as innovators find an outlet and a direction for their talents. Maybe it is something you could help promote in Michigan.

  • Dan, Have you ever tried to get male mentors for a community service program that targets at-risk boys/young men? After spending years in education, I’ve found it to be quite difficult. From a program-management standpoint, it is easier to do girl groups, because women mentors are easy to come by. Why is it that women are so willing to mentor, and men are not? This is representative of the real issue: if cooperation is valued over competition, and competition is how men are “wired”, how can we reach/rewire boys and men to increase cooperative behaviors, thereby increasing male achievement?

  • Nice message, because it recognizes that nothing is FIXED and we’re all finding our way, searching as we live, discovering what we think works best, making mistakes but still “in the arena” and doing our bit. A truth in the column is that CHANGE is usually the more difficult path – simply because it is likely to require different behaviors and tools. When we get up in the morning, how many of us are thinking of changing how we do things? We can, yes; but to do so takes an “airing” (or reset) of one’s mind to the new information and reactions that will follow naturally. For me, energy use seems like a “for example” — as behavior in our use of energy resources is a big variable in this issue as well. Perhaps if we’re able to monitor ALL use of energy (e.g., live data in the house and car) adjustments and new sources for generating what our lives require will come easier. Similarly, it may be the live and timely FEEDBACK we get from others — our wives, companions and friends — that can either facilitate or hamper making personal change a positive thing. May the road rise to greet you!

  • These are tough times for both men and women. I offer a somewhat different, seemingly under recognized, and gender neutral perspective.

    The dominant reductionistic science does a great job with matters involving physics and chemistry and many of their fruits including weapons and the Internet. But this science is failing us for matters involving complex systems such as patients, economies, and social systems. Witness our recent economic difficulties and challenges with healthcare reform as well as social and political problems.

    All of us are at risk until we advance a data-driven science that is more able to account for individuality, complexity, and adaptivity as well as emergent system properties such as self-awareness.

    Many of our decisions, practices, and policies need to be based on a more rigorous and able science.

  • No going back(wards)! Wow! This could be your most inspired…this hit right on on MANY levels — as a woman with an unemployed husband, I KNOW!

  • I am no fan of Williamson, as I find her to be one of the many new-age types who offer nothing of substance save platitudes and uninterpretable gobbledygook.

    To your point on men, however, I firmly agree. Our society is moving towards a more cooperatively driven focus which is no longer based upon the protect and provide mantra. Competitiveness is no longer valued and the reactive hunter / gatherer instincts of men are not well served in societies where the work has shifted from brawns to brains.

    Although reinvention is key, I would posit that a new “great undertaking” would energize our male workforce. This could be as dramatic as the space program was in the 1960s or as subtle as the dot-com boom of the 1990s. In short, we need an innovatio injection, and I am afraid that the “green jobs” effort will prove insufficient.

  • Dan,

    Your comments trigger memories of bell hooks’ book “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity & Love”.

    In “The Will to Change”, hooks talks about what she calls “patriarchy” — the male-centric culture of expectation which drives men to crave to solely be the protector and provider, and for women to expect the same from their men — and how it is difficult for men in this time of great transformation to redefine who we are and how we can fit into a vastly changing time.

    Our culture does appear to be changing in many, many ways and this seems to generate fear and distrust, as well as a not knowing where or how to fit in. There are folks who are clearly ready for deep change, and there are those who appear to want to rigidly cling to expectations and archetypes of earlier generations.

    Much of this is culturally programmed into us from the earliest ages, or even emerges from a deeper place, that which Jung called the “collective unconscious”. My understanding is that this is not necessarily a place between or “among” minds; rather, Jung meant that the collective unconscious resides deep within each of us, informing who we are and who we become. Emanating from these ancient recesses are desires, fears, and expectations which, in many of us, remain unconscious for a lifetime.

    To be sure, we each may find very important roots of who we are when we begin to dig around in these ancient aspects of self and culture. As you say, men seem to be experiencing a time when everything is changing. I believe men will be best when we embrace innovation, thoughtfulness, creativity, collaboration, flexibility, ecological sustainability, balance, and wisdom.

    Thanks Dan for so honestly and clearly expressing your opinions and ideas.


  • Dan,

    The roles of women and men are in transition as the playing field becomes level at work and in the home. Both genders are redefining how best to support themselves, their partner and their children.

    In my role as an executive and personal development coach, I see a number of highly skilled women executive clients who are in need of some fine-tuning when it comes to be recognized and supported for their abilities.

    One female CEO client of a global corporation has downplayed her work role when discussing what ‘she does’ with the school mate parents and teachers of her children; reluctant to admit that she is the sole economic supporter of her family while her male partner (the father of her children) handles the family duties. She is now working on an ‘elevator speech’ that clearly defines her powerful executive role and her partner’s vital domestic role to help overcome the traditional male/female role perceptions of those she meets.

    These executive women client are intelligent, committed and hard working. They are valued for their technical expertise but may miss some of the nuances or “invisible rules” that are required to be chosen for further career advancement.

    Since the culture at most organizations has been shaped over time by male executives, women can be at a disadvantage when it comes to picking up on gender-based differences and subtle cues. A report by Catalyst, a New York-based nonprofit, “Women and Men in U. S. Corporate Leadership: Same Workplace, Different Realities,” found that 81% of women said that “adopting a style with which male managers are comfortable” is an important or very important strategy to advance one’s career.

  • The problem is not socialism. The problem is between resposible capitalism and predatory capitalism. The US is a prime example of predatory capitalism. We only have to study our lust for other countries and their resources. That is why we are expanding our empire through wars and crimes against humanity.

    Marianne Williamson does write great articles.

    I have no problem with women being the breadwinner but women still want a man with money or position. They would not be happy bringing home the bacon alone.

    • “The problem is between responsible capitalism and predatory capitalism.” Gerald S.

      A very important distinction, Gerald. The system matters for less than the implementation. That requires a change in consciousness.

  • Dan,

    Understanding the need to reign in the ingrained desires to strike out when livelihood and survival are in jeopardy, does little to assuage the deeply-felt drives to provide and protect that are such a part of the human, and especially the male ego. Many men, myself included, were raised in the traditional system that taught us to judge our worth by how well we provide for our families and how well we can protect them from the elements, from attack, and from oblivion.

    Knowing that collaboration, cooperation, and communication are fundamental attributes of the successful person in our current society does little to remove the urges arising from all those hours spent as a child learning and preparing to do battle with a hostile and uncertain world. Change is needed and it will happen, but it will take time to change, especially in a world that still holds dangers that may yet require us to test our mettle against aggression. It will take time to contain the drive to meet economic threats and even deprivation with that cold steel core which cries out to fight back with fists held high — fueled by anger and fear.

    Reason calls for its day in the sun and I hope we are all strong enough to grant its ascendancy.


    Time and Tradition

    My mind says I should talk.
    My gut says I should fight.
    But can I walk the walk
    On paths I know are right?
    The games I played in youth:
    Always rough and tumbled –
    Taught winning was the truth.
    That losers will be humbled
    On the sporting battlefield –
    Where young men must excel,
    And only weaklings yield;
    And winners get to tell
    The world that they are best!
    Traditions long in-bred,
    Are difficult to wrest,
    From out the heart and head.

    And now my world has changed,
    My world-view modified;
    My mind-set rearranged;
    My prejudice denied.
    But, I will need some space,
    Some time, and yes, some slack.
    For, though change runs apace,
    My training holds me back:
    I still need to provide;
    I still need to protect.
    Deep feelings I can’t hide,
    I’m certain to project.
    I understand the needs,
    To join the revolution,
    But change will come at speeds
    Of human evolution…

    Mick McKellar
    September 2009

  • As we appropriatly move into a more Androgynous world let us embrace what works and not be so quick to embrace other culture’s flawed values. In most third world nations like China, India, and Afghanistan, we still see women treated as property, children exposed to toxic chemicals, and command and control totalitarian governments hding behind a thin veil of Democracy.

    America does and will continue to lead the way. Our women step forward as true partners standing beside men. They are not in front of us and are no longer behind us. That is the message of positive progress that most here in America have come to recognize. Dan is right to point out all the additional dimensions that women have brought to our families and now bring to the workplace. They make us stronger. However, let’s not be so eager to jettison the Manifest Destiny of Andrew Jackson, and the rugged individualism of John Wayne. As a father, a Marine and a CEO I have tried to lead by example, carry my own weight, leave it better then I found it, give someone who is down a hand up not a handout. I have stressed the need for integrity, personal accountability, dependability, thrift and a Christian Faith. Sometimes my wife was right to be soft, sometimes I needed to be firm. America needs all of its people doing what is right. If we preserve these values we will never need to fear our assured place as a sure beacon of responsible International Leadership. Time Tested truths always win out and time will see more and more true Democracies joining us on that mountain top.

    • Nice post, David. I do take exception to the suggestion that we seek androgyny.I don’t get the impression that’s what you’re really saying – you speak of your wife being right to be soft and you being right to be firm – and you speak of true partnership.

      Too many women scrambled to be like men early in their careers. Now men (or at least the smart ones) are scrambling to embrace the feminine qualities Dan attributes to a woman’s nature. But the successful men and women embrace both masculine and feminine qualities. I find some of the most savvy people I do business with are men who are very relational. They are not androgynous, however. They are men who have partnered their masculine qualities with their feminine ones – but not merged them, as androgyny implies.

  • It seems like what we have is a balancing act. I read your column after seeing the Emmy’s last night. If you watch Emmy-winning “MadMen” you see a world that was incredibly male dominated, where a very talented woman has almost no standing amongst her male peers. I agree men & women might be trained differently, but shouldn’t we try to put the right people in the right positions? If we put the right people in the right places they will naturally lead or follow as is their talent, and isn’t that the best possible place?

  • We all have to find our place in the world to survive. Most of us have had to become someone other than we would ideally wanted to be to find that place. If as a man this has not previously been your experience, i guess you have male priviledge to thank. Welcome the real world. If you’re a man feeling under attack, without a place, please don’t take out your misplaced agression on the nearest woman.

  • Men are at Risk? They feel as if they are under attack? Pul-eez!! The only thing that makes certain men at risk is an unwillingness to be more fully ‘human’. This is not meant as criticism, but to say that we are ALL (male and female) born with innate human qualities- compassion, connection, emotion. Somewhere along the line, certain cultures decided it was inappropriate for their men to exhibit these qualities (is it any wonder that for many years, men were the primary sufferers of “heart” attacks?). The greatest martial artists know that “There is great strength in softnesss”, and one must yield in order to be powerful.

    And Dan, I disagree with your statement “I can’t protect my wife from a Republican attacker or media assailant”. While it is true that you cannot control other people’s behavior, you can control your own. By being supportive of your wife, by listening to her and allowing her the space within which to address these incidents, you are providing shelter from the storm, or ‘protection’. And in this way, you are also being fully human, which is what Marianne Williamson espouses.

  • If men are swimming in a sea of change as you suggest, then I say, I hope you won’t be hesitate to ask for a life preserver if you are drowning. As a career and leadership coach (and a recovering recruiter), I have been fortunate to build a successful business, and have held the position of primary income producer in both my current and former marriage. While there have been times that I have felt that women were not given the same advantages as men (in fact, my lower commission rate when employed by a large recruiting firm was testimony to that!) I have always been of the mind that if you are thrown an obstacle, work hard, and figure out how to overcome it. In my case, it’s not so much a gender thing as a matter of intestinal fortitude.

  • Hi. Being the parent of a now teen age son with 3 older sisters it has been a cultural shock raising my son. When I was raising his 3 sisters I always thought I would raise a son the same way I raised my daughters. We needed to be mindful of stereotyping girls into certain roles. The thinking was girls can be anything they want to be – we need to make sure they feel good about themselves and then Title IX (?) came about for girls in athletics. It was all about our daughters and young women changing the world. Unfortunately, our sons and boys got left in the dust. Teachers single out the boys in school at very young ages to sit still – act like the girls (my words) and fold your hands and don’t blurt anything out in the class – forgetting that boys gross motor skills are much more developed than girls. My son was so frustrated in elementary school and would get into trouble for not staying in his seat, talking out of turn and tapping his pencil on his desk. On cold wintry days the teachers felt the students shouldn’t go outside for recess. I strongly disagreed. For boys it was critical for them to hop, jump, run and flex their legs and arms. Recess became a talking point each evening for my son. Boy was I wrong about bringing up my son like his sisters! I ate my words on that one! And now, I’m dealing with girls wanting to jump my son’s bones and the talk is about staying away from all the girls who want to have sex. As he recently described his entry into high school – “I felt like I was walking into a jungle”. Who knows what the future holds for him. The culture has certainly changed but we continue to push the value of the family and how that bond is more important than anything else.

  • Hi from East Lansing!

    I attended a conference in 2005 at the Omega Institute in New York. The conference was Women & Power and the keynote speakers included Maya Angelou, Eve Ensler, a stellar collection of authors, instructors and activists and even 2004 Noble Peace Prize Winner, Wangari Maathai. The strongest thread of the conversations and lectures over the three day conference was the shifting paradigm from an old school of thought to a new school of thought. They spoke of the old dynamic, male driven, presented an “us OR them” philosophy. They explored the fear of things that might be emotional or “messy” ( read: human) for people, mostly men, who still function under the old dynamic. And they spoke of a new, emerging philosophy that is an “us AND them” scenario and the embracing of all the things that make us human, messy tears included. It was, as it always is when you bring hundreds of women into the same space, a warm, compassionate, dynamic and insightful gathering. All the things that might make men who are dedicated to maintaining the structural integrity of a male dominated world, well, uncomfortable. The reason why businesses fail and countries go to war and religions struggle for the space at the top of an imaginary hill is because we are thinking, feeling, breathing, emotional human beings. We are not mindless robots who follow arbitrary directives for the sole gain of a corporation or one lunatic individual with a god complex. After men have trained and beaten and forced anything into a shape it was not meant to hold, they must choose to either exert even more force to keep it that way or to allow it to grow INTO what it needs to become. The fear of letting something out of our steel grasp is what drives us on in stupid wars and pointless projects. Women have been midwives to the world all along and we can certainly be of great assistance in helping the birth of a new paradigm of thought. As Wangari said at that conference, we are all on the same bus and we can make this a pleasant ride by choosing it to be so. We could sure use a Women & Power Conference right here in Michigan!

  • I wish men could get it that the culture lied to them. They are more than just a paycheck. Your emotional support of your wife is of immeasurable value to her and as a result, to the state she governs during these extremely trying times. The dominant culture has long de-valued women’s work in the home: all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, child care, social events, etc. Now that rotten practice is spilling over onto men who serve as homemakers and the emotional support of a family and its breadwinner. Gender doesn’t matter! All work is valuable, whether paid or unpaid. Surely you know that your work with youth is of immeasurable value to them and the families they will be parents in some day. Why isnt’ this work of yours valued? We have to end the practice of assuming that anyone’s worth can be measured in dollars. It’s a lie! A lot of work is immeasurable.

  • Dan,

    As always, well reasoned and well written. This one strikes me as very timely…both as a father of a teenage boy and as a participant and believer in the need for men’s ministry. Thanks for raising the issue in the context of Leadership.

  • This has been going on since the late 70’s. It began in schools and has continued.
    Women make great leaders.
    Men do also.
    Men were put aside for AA reasons and EEOC reasons and this is a result. Those “good enough” are running corporations and hopefully the discriminatory programs can end and allow the best to run our country. I have five sons who are living out the results of reverse discrimination. I have told them that they will earn everything they get, while some around them will be given. It is too bad that the programs to equalize have resulted in another group being less than.
    Leaders and high performers come from both genders and they need to be allowed to grow and rise to the surface and above at no expense to either group.

  • >