December 21, 2023

What Men’s Circle Taught Me About Community

by Luke Forrester, SASC

I glanced at my watch: 6:25pm. Five boxes of fresh pizza filled the room with the smells of late-night movies during childhood sleepovers. It was a warm comfort that eased some of my trepidation- but still, I had no idea what to expect for the first Men’s Circle of the Fall term. Little did I know, I was five minutes away from being launched into one of the most rewarding and thought-provoking few weeks of my time in university. 

By 6:35, all of the chairs I had set up were filled, and more were being unstacked from the wall as the circle grew. The first challenge had been surpassed- people had actually shown up! In the years I had spent organizing events, workshops, and educational campaigns I had always hit a wall when it came to outreach with men. Sometimes, my failure to understand what exactly it was that men were doing with their free time made me feel like less of a man myself. In class, I would read articles and academic papers about loneliness being a silent killer for men- why, then, did it always feel so hard for me to make friends with them? Finally, we had gathered a room full of men- but that initial wave of relief was soon replaced by the biggest hurdle yet to be surmounted: what on earth were we actually going to talk about?

Our first Men’s Circle topic was about online communities. As the hour went by, our discussion jumped, ducked, twisted, veered, and dove into unexpected territories ranging from gaming culture, to texting feuds, to dating apps. Our guest facilitator, Ry Avola, brilliantly set the tone with their own vulnerability; sharing stories and anecdotes rife with potent lessons learned from a life lived with incredible emotional depth. It was as if I blinked and our time was up. During our check-out, I quickly realized that almost no one (including myself) had ever participated in a group like this- especially with other men. It dawned on me that we weren’t talking about healthier masculinities, but that the talking itself was our way of practicing it. I was learning by doing, not just thinking. 

But doing healthier masculinities made me feel a lot more exposed than merely thinking about it. When the time came for me to facilitate a discussion without Ry, I realized that the hardest part would be leaning into my own vulnerability, my own stories, and my own relationship to masculinity. Why did I find it hard to connect with other men in my past? How had that affected my dating life, my friendships, my body image, my mental health, and my leadership style over the years? As Men’s Circle went on, spanning all of these topics, I felt myself changing my outlook on community connection. As one of our participants aptly put it one week, “I realized that I could spend more than 15 minutes talking with a room full of men without getting pissed off.” 

More than that, I realized that everyone was hungry to listen, and sometimes to talk also. No one was forced to come. No one was forced to contribute once they were there. And yet, time and time again, we each pushed through the risk and the vulnerability of sharing little pieces of ourselves for the sake of building community. Learning and teaching became one in the same, and I began to see that manhood could go far beyond what I picked up as a kid. 

If Men’s Circle taught me one thing, it’s that the simple act of listening can go a long way to build community in unexpected settings. I had my fears- biases, even- before Men’s Circle began; but now, having listened to men’s stories, feelings, losses, and wins over the course of eight weeks, I’ve seen that there’s so much left to learn about ourselves when we take interest in learning about each other. 

And, of course, when we do it over five boxes of pizza. 

Click here to RSVP for Men’s Circle Term 2.

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