Calendar correctives: core values and the art of surrender

March

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3 comments

In my inaugural post for the Whysmen Virtual Pub, I described my thoughts as I was about to succumb to anesthesia during a recent surgery to repair my torn rotator cuff. In the blog, I opined about how we, as men, need to discover graceful ways to relinquish control—something that generations of cultural programming (at least in the U.S.) have cast in a less-than-positive light. Sound advice, I thought. But the flow of days immediately after my surgery offered “course corrections” that challenged the assumptions beneath my bold assertion, causing me to alter, or at least to rethink, my position.


Experiencing a Snowstorm

The first of these correctives reflected a decidedly local reality. It occurred just days after my surgery. We had six inches of snow in the New York City suburbs and—because my arm was in a sling and my physical therapist warned against strenuous activity until my shoulder was more sufficiently healed—I stepped aside to serve as cheerleader while my wife undertook the task of shoveling snow from our deck and walkway. She was more than willing to do this, but—despite my recent incantations about the need to surrender—I found myself rather uncomfortable as this scenario played out in real time. Those “manly tropes” that I grew up with reared their ugly head, prompting surges of guilt as I watched her work while I remained idle.

Irrespective of gender, our challenge as individuals is to understand (and own) our core values so that we can practice the art of surrender appropriately without sacrificing who we are and what we are called to be. It is my hope that our engagement over time in the Whysmen Virtual Pub will allow us to explore history as it unfolds incrementally around us, that we will build the trust and mutual respect to enable us to share our shifting perspectives with one another, that we will better understand when to step aside and give up our desire for control, and that we know when we must surrender because the stakes are just too high. Navigating these different claims on our lives is truly an art form of the highest order.

The lesson for me was to inject a bit of humility into my recent pre-op revelations: it is one thing to practice the “art” of surrender when you are moments away from being fully anesthetized and have no real choice about your response. It is much more difficult to graciously cede control when there is at least the appearance that you can force a choice—even if that choice would ultimately involve serious long-term consequences. My revised revelation, on “this side” of my sedation, is acknowledgment that relinquishing power and responsibility demands an emotional maturity that is easily buffeted by the “shoulds and oughts” that we men have been taught since childhood.


Inspiration from a Global Icon

A second corrective compounded my sense of humility and was dramatically different, shifting from the very intimate familial experience of navigating a relatively light snowstorm in the northeastern U.S. to a global incident that quite literally shook the world: the death of Alexie Navalny, the Russian dissident who died under mysterious circumstances in a remote Siberian penal colony. This event challenged my whole premise underlying my premise in “art of surrender,” drawing on the idea that in some instances, it is the act of not surrendering that marks a true claim on our manhood.

Alexie Navalny, the Russian dissident who died under mysterious circumstances in a remote Siberian penal colony.

According to the Associated Press, “Navalny had been jailed since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow to face certain arrest after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin. His Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his regional offices were designated as ‘extremist organizations’ by the Russian government that same year.”

It is inconceivable that Navalny did not understand the fate that awaited him. Yet he returned to Russia voluntarily. With humor, sarcasm and relentless determination, he continued his quest in service to justice and human rights in his home country. Since then, he has become an international symbol, a shining example of how to unabashedly speak truth to power, irrespective of the personal cost.

His unshakable opposition to Putin’s ruthless war in Ukraine, his unending attacks on domestic corruption and his sardonic posts in support of human rights, individual freedom and farcical behavior among Russia’s leadership class became increasingly unpalatable to the Kremlin. He became a heroic figure to legions of supporters far beyond the borders of his country. And he never surrendered. Yes, in returning to Russia after his attempted poisoning, he was arrested. submitted to the authorities. But he never surrendered. And it cost him his life.

At his funeral, as his coffin was taken inside the church, a crowd waiting outside in the Russian cold broke into respectful applause and then chanted: “Navalny! Navalny! You weren’t afraid, neither are we!”

The outpouring of mourners at his funeral—despite the threat of harassment, imprisonment and even torture—bears witness to Navalny’s bravery and points to a legacy of courage and human dignity that, like seeds beneath the snow, is just waiting to blossom.

Irrespective of gender, our challenge as individuals is to understand (and own) our core values so that we can practice the art of surrender appropriately without sacrificing who we are and what we are called to be.

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Striking a Balance

So, now as the calendar turns from February to March with spring on the horizon, I reflect on my initial post on the Whysmen Virtual Pub, and I am reminded of an important principle: advice is conditional and should be offered humbly. Day-by-day, if we are attentive to our surroundings—both in our local settings and in the global arena—life continues to teach us valuable lessons. It is important for us to heed these lessons, grow in wisdom with each new day and modify our positions as reality shifts about us.

Irrespective of gender, our challenge as individuals is to understand (and own) our core values so that we can practice the art of surrender appropriately without sacrificing who we are and what we are called to be. It is my hope that our engagement over time in the Whysmen Virtual Pub will allow us to explore history as it unfolds incrementally around us, that we will build the trust and mutual respect to enable us to share our shifting perspectives with one another, that we will better understand when to step aside and give up our desire for control, and that we know when we must not surrender because the stakes are just too high. Navigating these different claims on our lives is truly an art form of the highest order.

  • Well said Bob and thank you.

    My hope with the pub is to build bridges to understanding My reason for attempting this “pub” is my steadfast desire to co – create a global place where men can meet in honest conversation , where we can get to know one another as men and realize that we have more in common than makes us different. To build a better world.

    My own surrender in this work is to watch this community grow knowing that it will be more than I could have imagined.

    Regarding what not to surrender to – my fear that I’m not doing enough on my part make this pub viable, or that someone else better qualified needs to take the reigns 🙏

  • Coupla’ things, Bob.

    It is a bit disconcerting to read your post during the very same week which holds International Women’s Day as a centerpiece. Might it not have been a better choice for a Man to write about a Woman or, for that matter, Women in general? Just saying.

    Also, I must admit to feeling a bit uncomfortable visiting The WhysMen Pub in an era when transphobia is on a serious rise, women’s reproductive choices are increasingly limited, and girls and young women continue to face genital mutilation around various parts of the globe.

    Finally, some men may feel unease while ceding ‘men’s work’ to women (re: snow shoveling). Do these same men squirm in their figurative armchair recliners while women worldwide clean the homes, cook the meals, wash the dishes, do the laundry AND bear (and care for) the children? Most of these women, btw, hold outside-the-home jobs.

    Forgive me, Bob. This man is feeling moody and argumentative. Must be his time of month, eh?

    • Yes, I think it must be the time of the month…. I think Bob wrote a sensitive and timely article that you seem to be trying to attach to the guilt feelings of all the latest woke concerns, rather than reading it for what it is.

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