Commentator Rob Okun

AMHERST, Mass. (WOMENSENEWS)–Every Wednesday night for five years I have led a group for men who have abused their wives or partners. On the night after the unfathomable plane crash attacks against the United States, I asked the men to talk about their feelings instead of what many men tend to do–discuss the glut of news and images that had already overwhelmed all of our minds.

Each man said he was angry and wanted to retaliate. But what else?

After some silence they allowed that things were no longer “safe,” they were “unsure” about the world, they were “afraid to travel.” More silence. My female co-leader finally named the feeling they didn’t seem ready to identify–vulnerability. That’s the feeling their partners and wives often feel around them. And that’s just what such men must learn: When something happens to trigger rage, there are other choices to make besides reacting with anger.

Why talk about men’s tendency to lash out when they are frightened during this time of national trauma? Because what could be more important for our leaders to be contemplating? Our anger is justified. The perpetrators must be brought to trial. But as cooler heads are proposing, rather than Uncle Sam inflating his chest and relying on the old adage “might equals right,” now is the time for taking a different approach.

Now is a time for the president to invite peacemakers such as Nobel Peace Prize-winner the Dalai Lama back to the White House for more than a photo opportunity. Now is the time for a full-scale examination of a foreign policy that evokes such rage, such boiling hatred. Self-reflection has never been a particular strength of our country. Now is the time to exercise it in full measure.

We have arrived at a teachable moment many citizens hoped wouldn’t require such an overwhelming tragedy to attain. I shudder at the lives lost, at the suffering and the misery that arriving at this point has cost, but the stakes are too high not to see this catastrophe as an opportunity to forge a new direction.

Cartoon by John Deering

Men, Especially Fathers, Should Champion Culture of Compassion, Not Destruction

Men in particular are obliged to seize this moment to exercise a new kind of leadership. We know what a unilateral assault on any nation harboring the perpetrators would bring–countless dead and fresh blood on our hands as we perpetuate the cycle of violence. For U.S. men to champion a culture of compassion rather than a culture of destruction would send a critical message to the rest of the world. We have an opportunity to chart another course among nations. Men, especially fathers, have a rare opening to model a different kind of leadership for our sons and daughters at home and to press that message in Washington.

The United States is at a precipice. We could easily go over the edge. Yes, we feel anger and outrage coursing through us. It is natural after what has happened. But it is unnatural and would mock the courageous acts of firefighters, police officers and rescue workers to consciously choose to murder thousands in revenge. That’s the old dangerous model of masculinity we must denounce.

We have been violated and are experiencing feelings anyone who has been violated–or who has had a loved one violated–invariably feels. But just as those victims and allies must go through emotions beyond anger and revenge, so must the country, especially our leaders. Yes, the perpetrators must be held accountable for their crimes against humanity. But in the days ahead, all of our voices need to be heard, not just the shoot-first-ask-questions-later voices barking loudly out of some corners of Washington. Our children are watching. The whole world is watching.

I have these questions: Will men step forward to call for restraint? Will men step forward to call for insight and wisdom? And ultimately, will men step forward to call for an end to the masculine culture of violence?

Rob Okun is associate director of the Men’s Resource Center of Western Massachusetts, a counselor in private practice in Amherst, and editor of Voice Male magazine.

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