I just returned from spending a week with my men’s group. We began meeting forty-three years ago with seven of us. Now there are only three that are alive and can travel. We have been committed to our own healing and supporting each other and our families to be the best men we can be. We all recognize the importance of deepening our connections to ourselves, our brothers in the men’s group, our families, communities, and the natural world of which all our lives depend.
We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb in Tesuque, just north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The views were breathtaking and reminded me of how important it is to get out of the city and to feel the wisdom of the natural world. The biologist, Paul Shepard said that humans need to be surrounded by nature. When there is too much humanity and human made things and too little wild nature, he said we become “genetic goofies,” not really human, but altered in ways that make us both more passive and aggressive.
The wolf is often associated in literature with men. Many of us were raised with a “lone-wolf” stereotype. For me the heroes of my childhood were cowboys and soldiers who kept their feelings to themselves, were independent, strong, and silent. When danger called they were quick on the draw and would vanquish the bad guys, then ride off into the sunset alone. I still am drawn to the modern rendition of that same mentality, the Jack Reacher character in the many crime thriller novels by British author Lee Child.
There was also “the big bad wolf” who stalks Little Red Riding Hood who naively tells him where she is going. The wolf gains entry to grandmother’s house by pretending to be her granddaughter, eats grandma, pretends to be grandma who Red recognizes the usually deep voice, big eyes and hands, and a big mouth. She is then gobbled up by the wolf.
The wolf is emblematic of the natural world and the wildness that is part of us all. But like so much of nature, “civilized” humanity has viewed the wolf as dangerous and has killed most of them or turned them into domestic pets. But it is not the wolf pack that is dangerous and we all have some wolf in us that needs protecting and supporting.
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder captures this spirit in a poem called “Spel Against Demons:”
The man who has the soul of the wolf
knows the self-restraint
of the wolf
aimless executions and slaughterings
are not the work of wolves and eagles
but the work of hysterical sheep…
Real wolves in the real world have generally been seen as dangerous to humans and our domesticated livestock. There is an important story to tell about the wolves in Yellowstone National Park. The park itself is a wilderness recreation area mostly in Wyoming, but with parts that spread into Montana and Idaho.
Yellowstone became a national park on March 1, 1872. When President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law, it protected more than 2 million acres of mountain wilderness, amazing geysers and vibrant landscapes for future generations to enjoy. But it didn’t protect the wolves. The last wolves in the park were killed in 1926.
In 1995 wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone. This gave biologists a unique opportunity to study what happens when a top predator returns to an ecosystem. They were brought in to manage the rising deer and elk population, which had been overgrazing much of the park, but their effect went far beyond that.
The story about the return of the wolves may have a lot to teach us about men, mankind, and humanity. My colleague, Mark Farris Pirtle, has written a wonderful new book, Is Your Story Making You Sick? Heal Your Story, Heal Your Life, Heal Your World. He talks about how we can heal the negative stories we tell about ourselves, our relationships, and our world that arise from the unhealed trauma that many of us experienced growing up in families that were disconnected, damaged, or dysfunctional in some ways.
But the larger purpose of his book, says Pirtle,
“is to create a positive system effect that ripples out from your mind and heart to not only positively affect your mental and physical health but also your relationships with your local community. When added to the good works of others, it will all amplify to positively affect our culture, political system, economy, and eventually the global ecosystem.”
In the introduction he says,
“Sometimes, doing one right thing can magically change everything for the better.”
He goes on to describe a trophic cascade as
“a natural, unpredictable, and synergistic process of reformation that ripples through a system.”
He offers the reintroduction of the wolves into Yellowstone as an example.
Remember, the original purpose of bringing back the wolves was a simple one: To manage the rising deer and elk population.
Of course, the biologists didn’t send in a “lone wolf.” They sent in two wolf packs, one with eight wolves arriving on January 12, 1995 and another pack of six wolves being released in a different area of the park on January 20th. The effect was dramatic and far reaching. With fewer deer and elk to graze on the small and delicate saplings, trees of all kinds began to sprout up and take root. As soon as the forest reestablished itself, an array of bird species moved back in.
Our Moonshot Mission for Mankind has a simple purpose to help men live as long and well as women. Could healing men and masculinity have the same kind of positive impact in the world as introducing wolves back in Yellowstone had in improving that ecosystem? Could healing men have a significant impact on healing humanity?
The comedian Elayne Boosler offered this humorous, yet insightful observation.
“When women get depressed they either eat or go shopping. Men invade another country. It’s a whole different way of thinking.”
Would healthy men be less self-destructive? Would they be less fearful and aggressive? My experiences in working with men over the years tells me “yes.” We will explore these issues more fully to two subsequent articles.
You can learn more about our Moonshot Mission for Mankind and how you can become involved here.
In Part 2 of this three-part series you will learn more about how introducing wolves to Yellowstone created a positive cascade of changes. You will also learn about our work at MenAlive and how we’ve been working to help men life fully, love deeply, and make a positive difference in the world. Come visit us at MenAlive.