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NTW – Initiation Message I – Life is Hard

A young male gets initiated. So what? Is it really that important? I argued in my last post that there are definite needs for rites of passage to mark the transition from boy to man. One major reason is the lessons that are taught. Beyond those included during the instruction in liminal space, there are several overarching themes that guide the transition process.

The first of these is that life is hard.

Now, for some of you readers, this seems like common sense. Life is hard. But, many of our males are growing up not realizing the full impact of this lesson. The fact that life is hard primarily calls for one thing.

It calls for us to transform pain rather than run from it. In our modern age, it’s easy to run from pain. Medication offers quick fixes to our physical ails and the many distractions of life can keep us from obsessing over our internal, psychic pain. The running from pain comes from a mindset that life should be easy. When we note that life is hard, we turn into our pain, to conquer and transform it. This message gives the call to young men to control their feelings (to tame the hurricane energy, if you will), instead of being controlled by them. If we don’t learn how to transform our pain, we turn it outwards, harming others as well as ourselves in our efforts to overcome/run from it. Richard Rohr (2004) notes that “if we don’t transform our pain, we will transmit it in some form. Take that as an absolute” (p. 37). We must recognize the difficulty of life before we can begin to transform our pain.

How do we teach this? I’m not saying we should overly burden our young men; many of them are carrying far more than we ever could. We shouldn’t create our own ways to teach them that life is hard. But, when they encounter pain, obstacles, issues, we cannot swoop in and solve those issues for them. We must, out of love, let them wrestle with the difficulties in life, with us on the side, coaching and supporting them through the process. Every young male will wrestle and approach these feelings in a different way. We must support them through their struggle.

The best gain we can give our boys through this lesson is to help them overcome their anger, pain, hurt, and frustration. They don’t need to turn these feelings inward (for self-harm) or outward (to harm others); rather, they must learn to overcome this. Through learning that life will be hard, but then understanding how they can approach the hardships in life, we help establish our boys on a path to productive, creative masculinity.

Rohr, R. (2004). Adam’s return: The five promises of male initiation. New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company.

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2015 in Rites of Passage

 

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Why We Need Rites of Passage

The last year has been spent outlining the phases of a rite of passage as well as the concepts that define the mature masculine and ought to be taught in liminal space. It strikes me, though, that I have barely scratched the surface on the actually need for a rite of passage. Why should we go through all this trouble to transition our boys to men (and our girls to women)? Why is creating the time and space for separation, reflection, and rejoining necessary? It is needed for several key reasons:

1. To mark the separation between boyhood and manhood. The boy-to-men/girl-to-women transition isn’t the only example of a rite of passage. Marriage – marking the leaving behind of all others for one person; certainly two people have a prior relationship and could even have been living together for quite some time, but the ceremony, the rite of passage of marriage guides the transition into a new one-ness. Fraternity/sorority initiation (an area that I work with regularly) marks the transition from prospective member to actual member. These individuals have been associated with the organization, but they need to undergo the change in status that only the initiation can provide. Lastly, the Presidential inauguration provides a public transition. Certainly, the President is the President by election, but the public oath and declaration establish it in the President and all of America’s minds. Just as in each of these examples the rite of passage provides a marked transition to help move beyond a “holding pattern”, so rites of passage for boys and girls allows them to move from the holding pattern of adolescence into their maturity.

2. To help men grasp their masculinity. This is not in an abusive sense; that they need to lay hold of some power granted to them by their maleness. To do so would actually be the antithesis of masculinity. No, rites of passage are needed to help men develop their identity as mature males. Stephenson (2006) notes that “in traditional cultures, identity was not something to be stumbled into but a gift to be given to young people. It was understood that teens need to be guided into their adult identities rather than left to ‘find themselves,’ as the common saying for adults goes” (p. 12). When I look at the struggles men are having with violence, with depression, and with perpetual “Peter Pan-ish-ness”, I see males who are still trying to find themselves. They have not been guided to explore who they are and have been left to figure it out on their own, to their and other’s detriment.

3. To remind us all what is most essential in life. Monica Wilson notes that “rituals reveal values at their deepest level…men express in ritual what moves them most” (in Turner, 2008, p. 6). Stephenson (2006) continues that “rituals remind us of what is most essential and universal in life” (p. 34). All of the virtues taught in liminal space, all of the exploration a male does as he moves through a rite of passage exist to remind him of what is important to him, what he should fight to uphold and protect. The turning inward that happens during a rite of passage, the self-examination, help men when they are faced with trying times. It helps them see the good and bad of their nature and to incorporate the best into their life. And, it is not just the initiate who receives these reminders. Everyone in the community is reminded of this, of the process they went through; everyone in the community can engage in similar self-reflection and remember what the essentials in life are. These rites help the “givers” as much as the “receivers”.

We need rites of passage to mark the transition. They put bounds on adolescence, celebrate the transition, and educate the receiver and the leaders. They aren’t just a ceremony to be completed; they are a hugely transitory experience for all involved, teaching important lessons and establishing a new man. In the future, we will examine these important lessons and their relevance to the process, the mature masculine, and the community.

Stephenson, B. (2006). From boys to men: Spiritual rites of passage in an indulgent age. Park Street Press: Rochester, VT.
Turner, V. (2008). The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. AldineTransaction: New Brunswick, NJ.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2015 in Rites of Passage

 

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Rites of Passage Roadmap – The New Man

Over the past year or so, I’ve described a journey for young men, focusing on their separation from their childhood, their education in liminal space, and the main lessons that ought to be taught to the boy-becoming-a-man. It’s now time for that man to rejoin his tribe, his family, and his community, not as who he once was, but as the man he now is. All of these components of the rite of passage into the mature masculine are important, but none is more important (or more overlooked) than the public re-integration and celebration of the new man.

Why is this public declaration so important?
Speaking of the importance of initiation, Ray Raphael (1988) notes that “[w]ithout the aid of a formalized rite of passage [which includes the public ritual], it is harder for a youth to be sure that he has actually changed from one state to another. His transition into manhood becomes more difficult – and it generally takes a longer period of time. In the absence of assumed ritual, the delineation between boyhood and manhood becomes obscured” (p. 15). Without the public declaration, we see a male who is capable of manly work (he’s become mentally and physically mature) but who has not yet assumed the responsibilities that come with being a man. When we miss out on the recognition, the initiation, all of the lessons that have been learned, all of the drama surrounding the coming of age, is not fully complete. The new man’s status must be publicly affirmed.

In this public affirmation, assurance of the new manhood occurs. One of the dilemmas of the modern (and postmodern) world is that identity has become very individualized. With multiple definitions of masculinity, coming from the media, friends, and countless other sources, security in one’s masculine identity is tenuous. We very much have a “melting pot of masculinity” which can lead to a young man trying to live up to a variety of expectations for manhood, instead of having his identity affirmed by those individuals who care about him (and whom he cares about).

We see, then, that public re-integration is important for the psyche of the new man. There is something in him that needs to have his new identity publicly affirmed. But, beyond that, this public declaration and acknowledgement does something else: it embraces the power of community for support, encouragement, and accountability. We don’t see this as much in our modern world. Malidoma Somé notes that “[t]he first consequence of westernization has been to make initiation private. In the old days, initiation was a village matter that mobilized the energy of every person” (quoted in Stephenson, 2006, p. 57). When the entire “village” is involved (village standing for those in the young man’s immediate community: family, friends, teachers/mentors, etc.), the seriousness of the manhood he is entering becomes apparent. Declaring publicly in front of the community – “This boy is now a man…and here is what you can expect from him” – gives the community permission to expect more from the new man and gives the new man a standard to live up to, something to strive daily to uphold. Additionally, it serves as a way for all other men in the community to commit or recommit themselves to the expectations of manhood in that community.

What might it look like?
The actually public re-integration/declaration must be tailored to fit the new man and to fit the community. The ceremony can take on a variety of formats. It must contain a few things, though:

– Elders conferring and affirming the new man’s identity. In all of the discussion about education in liminal space, the focus was on the elders sharing with the young male. We find elders playing a major role in the initiation of young males in almost every primitive society. It is a sign of respect, a way to maintain the tribal traditions, and a meeting of male psychological needs (Robert Moore notes that “if you’re a young man and you’re not being admired by an older man, you’re being hurt.”). I can imagine a moment during this ceremony where elders share how the new man has proven himself, what he has attained, and what he will do.

– Acceptance of the new man’s role. After the elders are done conferring this new role, the new man must also accept it. To publicly say “This is who I am and this is how I will behave” puts a level of responsibility and accountability in place. It shows many of the lessons of liminality in action and serves to create a form of verbal contract with the community.

– Articulation of new rights and responsibilities. As a man, we should expect someone to behave differently from a boy. There is something powerful about declaring publicly the rights and responsibilities. Beyond the new man accepting his role, articulation of these rights and responsibilities reminds the community that “this” is how men behave and what you can and should expect from them. There are no excuses anymore; it’s out there.

– New treatment of new man. No longer can childish or childlike behaviors be accepted or excused. No longer can the adults in the community treat the new man like a juvenile. In court terms, he is to be tried like an adult. It will do our new men no good if we initiate them into the mature masculine, then continue to treat them as if they were children. That would take away all their work, all their learning, and cause identity confusion – “Am I a man? Or a boy?”. We must treat the newly initiated differently and, if we are to expect more from them, we must also provide more respect to them.

Imagine the celebration and the pomp and circumstance surrounding a wedding or a graduation focused on affirming a young male’s new manhood and welcoming him back into the community with new rights and responsibilities. This is what is needed to celebrate the new man, the emergence and declaration of the mature masculine. This welcoming will start his life as a true man with the encouragement, accountability, and celebration that it requires.

References:
Raphael, R. (1988). The men from the boys: Rites of passage in male America. University of Nebraska Press.

Stephenson, B. (2006). From boys to men: Spiritual rites of passage in an indulgent age. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.
 
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Posted by on June 5, 2015 in Rites of Passage

 

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DNA of Masculinity – Reverence

As the year draws to a close, so does our look into the lessons that should be taught in liminal space. We’ve examined respect, how a man holds himself and others in regard; responsibility, how a man accepts and embraces accountability for his actions and their repurcussions; reach, how a man strives to better himself and the world around him; reflection, how a man doesn’t just look outward, but also turns the microscope inward to his heart, desires, and reasoning; relationship, how a man cannot go through life alone and must seek out other men to walk with him on his journey; and reason, how a man makes decisions after thought and reflection that can be explained. Now we arrive at the most important aspect of masculinity: reverence.

What is reverence?
Simply put, reverence is recognizing/acknowledging a higher power and giving deference to that power. You can be reverent to someone in authority, to a god, or anything else that is greater than you. In my work with fraternity men, I sometimes see the code/creed/obligations of the fraternity being revered. Reverence drives you to act outside of your own interests and desires and recognize the callings/commands/hopes of the higher power.

To speak from my own experience, reverence is acknowledging God as Lord. Once that happens in a person’s life, once it happened in my life, one establishes focus on how to interact with the world. In this relationship, all other aspects of masculinity are portrayed. In this relationship, I seek not my will or glory, but His. Knowing that I must answer to Him for all my actions causes me to consider them that much more carefully. I have a Father at my side all through life, a Friend I can call on in time of need. I seek to do my best, because to do anything less would be to dishonor Him. You can see how this reverence, this answering to God in my own life, doesn’t just draw on the other aspects of masculinity but it drives them to be more fully developed and evidenced in my life.

Why reverence?
In his third book on masculinity, Fight Like a Man, THE book to read on reverence in masculinity, Gordon Dalbey says that a man cannot know who he is until he knows Whose he is. This is all about reverence. Before you can know yourself, before you can act in the world with certainty, you must know to whom you are answering for those actions. And it cannot be you. In Adam’s Return, Richard Rohr (2004), speaking of promises/messages of male initiation, offers “five essential messages a man has to know experientially if he is to be rightly aligned with reality. … [They are:] 1. Life is hard. 2. You are not that important. 3. Your life is not about you. 4. You are not in control. 5. You are going to die” (pp. 32-33).If you analyze the middle three ritual messages, all three point to reverence, to recognizing a higher power that is more important, that your life is about, and that has control.

Knowing Whose you are has an additional affect. Yes, it gives you an authority to look and answer to. But, more than that, you can face internal struggles: “No man will entertain the unmanageable truth about himself until he knows his Father stands by him in it – not to shame him, but to deliver him from its deadly effects” (Dalbey, 2013, p. 207). Reverence is not merely a bowing down, and it’s not a crutch to lean against; it also serves to support us through struggles and trials in life.

How is reverence taught?
Like many of the previous components of the DNA of Masculinity, reverence can and should be taught through modelling. Reverence cannot be forced, however; a young male must choose Whose he will be. But, principles around reverence, how to relate to and respect a higher power, can be shown and, in some cases, taught. A child can grow up attending a church every week, but this is merely exposure to reverence. He must choose reverence; he must choose to bow his heart and will to something greater than himself. When this happens, then further instruction in how to live in this reverential relationship can occur. I wish I had a more steadfast answer than this. Ultimately, though, reverence is modeled to young men and they will adopt it as they are shown more of it in practice.

In bringing our discussion of the learning that happens in liminal space to a close, I must note that the lessons about the DNA of Masculinity do not stop once a young male has been initiated. Each of these aspects will be reinforced, strengthened, and refined as a man continues to exercise them. The way a man respects himself and others will not be the same at 60 as it was at 30. These lessons are merely those that, when learned, will differentiate the men from the boys, will demonstrate the mature masculine.

As we ring in the new year, we will investigate the final stage of initiation – reincorporation or reintegration. I thank you for following me on this journey through liminal space.

References
Dalbey, G. (2013). Fight like a man: A new manhood for a new warfare. Civitas Press: San Jose, CA.

Rohr, R. (2004). Adam’s return: The five promises of male initiation. Crossroad Publishing Company.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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DNA of Masculinity – Reason

I started this series almost a whole year ago. It’s been a long time in writing, both because I was juggling work and life and because I was doing my own inner reflection on each piece of the DNA of Masculinity. It’s not an easy task, trying to separate those qualities that separate the men from the boys. There are many things to be considered, many resources and philosophies to consult, and, as we will find in the final piece of DNA, it may sometimes yield a less-agreed-on result. A variety of works have been authored that seek to define what a man is. They generally fall into two camps: a man is someone who doesn’t act like a woman or a man is someone who doesn’t act like a boy (he is mature). It is this second definition that I focus on in Navigating the Wild, because many of the aspects I’ve found that define masculinity really define maturity, instead of separating genders. It is why I refer to the qualities of the initiated male as the mature masculine. In seeking this more direct definition, I’ve identified seven aspects or character traits of the mature masculine. The sixth aspect of the DNA of Masculinity is reason.

What is reason?
For the sake of this discussion, I am defining reason as the ability to make a sensible argument, to be rational in making decisions, and to be able to explain the “why” behind an action. Reason is that quality that allows us to piece through a decision and, using all of the information available and gathered, make what the choice we believe to be best. In the most academic of definitions, reason is the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic. This logic is rarely present in the immature male who acts on impulse, without reflecting on the outcomes and consequences of his actions. Note that reason is not a denial of emotions. In fact, the male who seeks to deny his emotions in making decisions or in acting in life is actually acting unreasonably, for he is denying a part of himself in the decision-making process.

Why is reason an essential part of the DNA of Masculinity?
All of the pieces contained in the DNA of Masculinity are useless if not supported by sound reasoning. Men cannot seek relationship with a reason for it. Men cannot look at their inner self, seek out their shadow, decode their life without some guiding questions or purpose. In order to reach, to strive for the highest and utmost, men need a reason lest they tire or fall short in their trying. To respect, both self and others, men must find reason for this and hold that reason close to their heart, in spite of difficulties. And, to seek out responsibility, to take responsibility for their actions, men must have some driving force behind them that propels them to this sense of responsibility. Reason makes all of these things possible. Without reason, many of our actions would become wandering, plodding about in darkness with no sense of direction. Reason gives purpose; in many regards, it is purpose. Sophocles said that “Reason is God’s greatest gift to man”; going a little further, Edward Counsel shares that “Reasons are the pillars of the mind.”

How is reason taught or shown?
One of the simplest ways to demonstrate and teach reason is to actually provide reasoning. The parent go-to of “because I said so” is one of the quickest ways to remove reason from the equation. Instead, decisions should be supported by a why – “No, you may not do ______, because it might ________.” In my work with college students, I often remind them that if I make a decision, they should always feel free to challenge it by asking why. If I cannot defend a decision with a sound reason, I have no business making that decision. In the same way, elders can model this same behavior. Moving from the elder to the male in liminal space, it is easy to inculcate reason into a young male by asking him to defend his actions. The more he is asked to give a reason for something, the more thoughtful and purposeful his actions will become. (I know that on its own, this may seem like reason could be taken advantage of. Of course, there are many negative actions that can be seemingly justified, but when combined with the other aspects of masculinity, reason must yield positive, respectful, and construct results.)

Reason must be taught to young males in their development. They must embrace it and make it the cornerstone of their decision-making. Mikhail Bulgokov said that “There is no greater misfortune in the world than the loss of reason.” The only misfortune greater would be never to have it at all.

To teaching our young men to think, act, and speak with reason,

MD

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2014 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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Men’s Empowerment

On the campus where I work, some of the students I advise just finished hosting a Women’s Empowerment Week. We were fortunate to have a grant that allowed us to provide a wide variety of programming – leadership and empowerment workshops geared towards college women, discussion surrounding feminism’s origin and necessity in society today, reflection on how the media portrays women, and exploration of women’s issues in the world. In short, it was amazing and fostered a greater dialogue about how women can support themselves and each other as they go through life.

In the wake of this programming, I had to ask myself – what would a men’s empowerment week look like? What kind of programming is even happening to empower men? I know some of my colleagues in the field might share that men are already privileged by virtue of their gender and they don’t need anything more to help them be powerful. But, as I wrote earlier, that’s not the picture that I see. Men need programming and dialogues about their issues as well, so what could it look like? I’ve thought of four overarching areas that we could serve and educate men to help them be better throughout their lives.

Owning and using male power. Men, please hear this – we have power. We have power by virtue of our gender, our size, and our society. And I’m not saying that we are bad people for having this power. Having power as a male is kind of like owning a car; if you own your behaviors and use it properly, you can help out so many people. If you throw it around or use it without regard others who are less powerful or less protected, you will hurt them. This power is something we need to talk about. What does it mean to be stronger (in general) than the female gender? What responsibilities should that place on us? What does it mean to be in a culture that is dominated by males at the leadership levels and how can we use the power that we have to bring everyone up, rather than just “our own”? The HeForShe movement is calling on us to use our power properly. Will we answer? When we own our power in a right and responsible way, when we tame the hurricane energy, we can change the world.

Embracing our softer side. I say softer side rather than feminine, because it’s time to stop calling certain emotions masculine or feminine. Yes, biologies are different, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all seek to have both strength and tenderness. Get a group of guys in a room and one of the last things they’ll want to talk about is their feelings and the softer side of their being. But this is essential. If we bottle up qualities like caring (sympathy and empathy), love, and kindness, we lose access to an entire half of our being. We must create spaces where these conversations can happen and where men can feel comfortable acting on these “softer” emotions. This is all about “marrying the queen”.

Building up one another. I wrote about relationship being part of the DNA of masculinity, and it is absolutely essential for us to talk about it. Too many men will go through life without a true friend, a true comrade in arms to stay by them and encourage, sympathize, and challenge them. Instead, what happens for many men is they encounter criticism (to their face or behind their backs) about their worth and qualities as a “man”. We will get no where cutting each other down; we will get everywhere when we treat everyone with respect.

Striving and thriving. Men are catching a bad rap for not performing well in school. They also catch flack for performing well in school. When did it become uncool to strive after a goal; when did it become the norm for males to want success to appear easy to come by? We should be celebrating those men who sweat to make themselves better – be it in the classroom, on the athletic field, or on the job. And we should be finding ways to inspire this same striving and thriving in growing young men. In wanting to make everything look easy, we drag each other and ourselves down.

These are some of the conversations we need to have. As men, we should be coming together to discuss our strength and how we can use it and looking deep into our souls for the tender male that lives inside. We should be embracing one another as friends. And we should be encouraging active reaching for excellence in our daily lives. This is men’s empowerment; this is positive masculinity.

MD

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Dear Men

I love you. I share the same chromosomal makeup, the same, general body design. I’ve gone through struggles you’re dealing with; some have overcome me…others I have conquered. Know that we are in this life together, fellow brothers navigating the world. So, I hope you hear what I’m about to share in the intent that it is given – from a brother who wants you and all of us to succeed. From someone who cares.

We’re in trouble. And we could blame everything around us for putting us down, for being against us, or for failing us in some way. But in all reality, the problem is us. We cause so much hurt in the world, to ourselves and to others, and it’s time to look at what we’re doing.

Bart shouldn’t be our role model.

Let’s start with school. In several books on male development, Dr. Leonard Sax shares five factors that are holding young men back from achieving in schools and in life. He shares that video games, teaching methods, prescription drugs (Ritalin and the like), testosterone disruption, and devaluing of men in the media may be sending boys into a decline as they navigate increasingly uncertain and unfriendly waters. We know these things, but what are we doing to counteract them? These five factors affect boys throughout their adolescence and even into college. I work on a college campus. It saddens me to see the percentage of men attending college slowly dropping (down to roughly 40% of incoming classes this year), with even fewer sticking around to graduate. Even those men who do attend college perform much worse than their female counterparts – I’m talking GPAs 0.1 – 0.3 lower on average. We should be embarrassed by this, but instead we make excuses or dismiss striving for excellence as “unmanly” or “uncool”. If you’ve read any portion of this website, you know that Reach, striving to better yourself and those around you, is a mark of true manhood. Time to embrace that in college. It’s easy to offer excuses and to resist changing to fit how society provides education; what’s truly needed is men looking at how they can overcome or counter these limiting and damaging trends.

Once men graduate (if they graduate), they find themselves in the working world, a place where boy’s club and dog-eat-dog mentalities still rein. Rather than working together to accomplish things, men cling to a competitive mindset, where they view another’s success as a personal defeat. All signs point to our society becoming more collaborative, not less. We cannot continue to tear men or women down in our hurry to get to the top. We must be supportive, encouraging, everything our inner caveman doesn’t want us to be. And we must do this for everyone, not just the folks who look like or sound like us. It’s time to extend some of the manly virtue of Respect to everyone.

Finally, can we agree that all persons are deserving of respect? Even if they are *insert any negative descriptor here*, they are still human beings. When I think about respect, the most important issue that comes to mind is respect existing in a relationship. Respect is essential to a healthy, positive relationship, and especially necessary where sex is concerned. Now I know that in the heat of the moment, when your lizard brain takes over, that it’s hard to remember to respect the other person’s wishes and make sure they’re alright. But, just so we’re all on the same page – yes means yes; no doesn’t mean yes; maybe doesn’t mean yes; and certainly, silence doesn’t mean yes. Respecting someone requires you to actually ask, rather than making assumptions about what they want. I promise that having this respect for a partner will make everything in and out of the bedroom so much better!

I’m still a work in progress just as you are; I’m not perfect. But we have to stop hurting ourselves – believing in the “coolness” of not trying, leaving a pile of bodies or careers in our wake in our quest for triumph, and clinging selfishly to our rights in relationships. There are many other ways we hurt ourselves and the world, but let’s focus on how we can repair the world. We have to start Reaching, supporting, and Respecting. Then, and only then, can we begin to solve the problems we see and cure the dis-ease that is in us.

Yours in love,

MD
 
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Posted by on September 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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