A Man



An interview with Mark Gerzon

Mark Gerzon was the keynote speaker at MKPI’s international July retreat in Colorado. He was an inspired choice.

He’s penned a number of volumes including, Listening To Midlife, Coming Into Our Own, A Choice of Heroes, A House Divided, and Leaders Beyond Borders. He is founder and president of Mediators Foundation. Gerzon is a conflict resolution specialist who facilitated the U.S. House of Representatives’ Bipartisan Congressional Retreat’s working sessions in 1997 and 1999. The New York Times called Gerzon “an expert in civil discourse.”

With the international expansion of The ManKind Project, it appears we might just need “an expert in civil discourse.”

Gerzon met separately with MKP’s international community while in Colorado before he gave his Saturday address. (He’s from Boulder so he didn't have far to travel to the meeting place in the resort town of Breckinridge.)

It was interesting talking with Mark Gerzon. He’s very open, very well read, and very, very precise with his language skills. On a number of occasions in our conversation, he would suggest to me what question I might actually be asking. (I need all the help I can get.)

He quotes many of my heroes, too, including C.G. Jung, Joseph Campbell, M. Scott Peck, Robert Bly, and Coleman Barks the translator of Rumi.

“So you want men around you who like your heroes,” he jokingly and accurately responded. “What about the man from the Philippines who may not have heard of Bly, Barks or Rumi? This is where bridge building comes in, when we share the same universal values with a man in a different context.”

In Leaders Beyond Borders (which alludes to the organization “Doctor’s Without Borders”) Gerzon lists the five essential values that will bring about the “emergence of a world that is just, sustainable and truly a global community.”

Integrity – identifying with the whole as well as your side.
Learning – inquiring into the suffering and the needs of all parties to a conflict.
Dialogue – communicating to transform conflict, not eliminate or win it.
Bridging – creating a positive process for handling differences.
Synergy – working towards solutions that are good for everybody.

“During a small seminar I taught recently in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I was fortunate to have participants from at least a dozen countries and from most of the major ethnic groups in the world. ‘You know what I loved about your course?’ an American participant asked me on the last day? ‘I loved sitting down with the rest of the world!’”- From Leaders Beyond Borders.

You know, that’s one of the reasons I like MKP’s get-togethers: I enjoy the learning, dialoging and bridging that comes from associating with all kinds of men from all over the world.

So according to Gerzon, shared values is the key to holding us together as a men’s organization. The most fascinating value he referred to was humility. Such an old-fashioned word.

“I am being taught humility every day,” he said. ”Life continues to teach me about my shadows. To me, humility is not theoretical; it’s a practical teaching that keeps me a student of life. One of my teachers once explained to me the difference between being humiliated and being humble. She said you feel humiliated when your ego is high, when it can be knocked down. Then if your ego is low, like the ocean, then you’ll be humbled. I’ve never forgotten that. I used to be humiliated by things all of the time. If you think about it, every time you feels humiliated you could feel humbled instead. If you feel humbled then you can learn. If you feel humiliated then you will resist (but that’s not why you came). Look at the good trainers, or good leaders on a NWTA – they’re humble men. The bad ones humiliate men. We’ve all seen the difference. It’s a fine but an important line.”

It took me two conversations before I realized Gerzon was an initiated New Warrior (1992).

“Ken Druck wrote a book called Secrets Men Keep, and we’d been friends for some time,” Gerzon continued. “One day he said, ‘Mark, you can benefit from this work. Do it. So when Ken says ‘do it’ – I take it seriously. I think that I sensed a male wound within myself. Somewhere in the training someone used the phrase ‘the chain of love between men has been broken and it is our job to reconnect.’ To reconnect ... I didn’t know that when I enrolled in that training that I needed to reconnect. I didn’t know that chain had been broken for me, but I sensed it had. Since then, my work in MKP has … let me see, I’ll make a list … strengthened my marriage; made me feel compassion for my father; helped me to grow up enough to express myself to my father; individuate from my father; deepen my friendship with him; enabled me to reach out to other men and encourage them to do the training; inspired me to staff and in the process of staffing deepen my own capacity to lead; and finally, it changed forever my sense of the topography of group dynamics so that I became much more effective at working with conflict with powerful constituencies.”

Pretty good list, I’d say.

“The MKP weekend is about profound transformations of darkness into light,” he explained. “C.G. Jung wrote about the shadow. The training is about the shadow. The purpose of being in a body is to transform darkness into light. That transformation only happens if you dare to look at the dark. If we get together as men and pretend everything is alright and life is working great … if we start with that kind of illusion and never focus on the dark … then men will never transform themselves. Look at the world and the men who are leading us in America, Al Qaeda, Israel or Palestine. The planet is being shaped by these men who are unwilling to look at their own shadows.”

At some point the question is begged … how do we share values with people who only want to hurt us? September 11th was a real tragedy.

“There was an objective act designed to hurt the United States,” he began carefully with measured words. “It was a particular part of us that was attacked – an archetype of global power and military might. It was an objective attack. However, you and I see people who feel attacked, but they’re not attacked. I talk about self awareness … if you’re self aware you know when you’re being attacked and when you’re not. You know who is attacking you and how best to respond. If you’re not self aware, you will respond to attacks that don’t exist.

Wasn’t 9/11 a real attack?

“When you’re being attacked, the first necessity is to defend yourself. A warrior defends himself so he can have time to do other things later that are more important. Defending doesn’t mean attacking necessarily, sometimes it simply means defending. There’s a difference. In martial arts, sometimes the best defense is defense. In America, we often say ‘the best defense is a good offense. That’s not always true. Right now, the U.S. is in greater danger than before 9/11. A leader in Egypt said that before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan there was one Bin Laden, now there’s a thousand. Ask the men reading this interview; would you rather have one Bind Laden in the world or a thousand? Personally, I would rather have one. If the Egyptian leader is right, now we have a thousand. If that’s the case, we have not defended ourselves wisely. If we had, there would be zero Bin Laden’s. We’re in a dangerous dance now. We are playing the enemies game. We should be playing our game, not their game. For me, our game is to return to our core values, our core mission statement.”

Gerzon helped the struggling interviewer formulate this question: “Mark, as we’re looking for some kind of emerging leadership, aren’t we in danger of losing something old, something deep within our past that we have to rediscover?”

“That’s a very deep question,” he responded. “It makes me wonder if time is not linear. It makes me think that rediscovering something very old is part of what lies ahead for us. It’s paradoxical. The shamans in Latin America believe their teaching is something very old. What I’m learning from my time with them is that there is very ancient wisdom that can teach us something about our own future. It’s a very earth-based wisdom that we’ve forgotten.”

Although he believes in the wisdom of the ancients, Gerzon said he was not convinced there was ever a golden age of man that was able to figure out the kinds of issues we’re wrestling with now as a species. What we do share with men of the past, he said, is the desire to continue the core virtues that will hold our civilizations together.

“The core thing we need to respect from the past is initiation. Society has lost the idea of being initiated into adulthood. That concept of initiation is critical. In Listening To Midlife, I talk about the fact that adults continue to grow their entire life. The whole NWTA is based on the premise that men over 21 are not done maturing. Previous generations have been stunted in their growth because they didn’t have rites of initiation useful to men in their 30s, 40s, 50s and older. I’d like to see MKP evolve by developing rites of passage specifically designed for different stages of the life cycle. If we have different age groups then we need different kinds of training. All ages can’t be squeezed through the same meat grinder - one is a rite of passage into adulthood and another is a rite of passage into elder hood. We’re really just beginning in the West to understand the capacity of human beings to develop throughout their entire lifespan. Initiations fuel that growth.”

Gerzon expressed a particular concern for the international men in the MKP community.

“In my letter that was circulated to the international men, I said that there’s a difference between an American training that has international partners and a truly global men’s leadership experience. I believe this is a cutting edge issue for our planet. I’ve worked with international schools and companies that want to become global. MKP has an opportunity to become global. First however, we must be willing to face a huge American shadow we cast around the world. The bigger the country, the bigger the shadow. I think we’re going to learn something about what a truly global men’s leadership looks like. At the conference, I’m going to listen and elicit the visions of the international men. This is a tremendous challenge that I see everywhere, including schools and companies whose vested interest in their own history becomes an obstacle to their own future. I don’t think the question is, ‘how can MKP couch its message so it can go global?’ because that makes it a public relations question or an advertising ploy. The critical issue is ‘how does MKP transform itself so that it becomes worthy of planetary leadership? How do we become worthy of the planetary challenge we face?’ I think MKP is on its way to being worthy.”

Gerzon lauded MKP’s multi-cultural efforts, including reaching out to African-American men.

“Although the work is not complete, at least the challenge has been faced in some way,” he said. “MKP has to face global challenges which are far greater. Every time I do multi-cultural training (most recently in Nairobi with 40 leaders from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Egypt) I have to ask myself what makes my training worthy of these people. If I started with a boiler plate training and rolled it like a machine, I’d be in trouble. What I do is take the missions of the people in a room; I take the challenges and shadows they face; and I go to their core principles. It’s the same for MKP. The individual missions of men will renew, revitalize and transform our network. That is alchemy. [Jung’s word.] Each of our missions and shadows are unique … like a unique mosaic. I believe a training in Sydney, or Capetown, or Dublin, has to begin by being grounded in the missions and shadows of the actual men in the country. The NWTA needs to be different in those different settings, while being true to its essential core – to the heart. That’s a paradox we have to learn to hold.”

Gerzon said he believed in a universal set of concerns shared by all human beings.

“The question is ‘how are we going to find that core?’ I think we find that common core by working with diverse groups around the world and asking them the questions,” he stated. “That’s a different approach than saying, ‘we in America have discovered the common core and we are going to ship it around the world like Coca-Cola and McDonalds.’ We find the core values by going inward and deeper, and learning from every single place and person from around the world. There’s not been a single training in a Muslim nation. We still have more piloting to do. We’re still growing. We need to keep growing. As we do, I see the training itself change and grow as it spreads around the world. The NWTA will be informed by other traditions and cultures. Now we need to learn from the half dozen countries already in our network. We can ask ‘what about this training is universal? What goes to the heart of being a man, and what doesn’t?’ When it grows into a couple dozen nations, then we’ll have to ask the same questions again with the focus on holding the whole. It’s about the core values of learning and then dialoguing.”

Gerzon discussed his five values at MKP’s Colorado summer retreat.

“We’re going to talk about how we can become global without being exploitive or imperialistic. It’s about going into integrity and not imposing one culture’s view on the planet. We can choose to do this in a deep, authentic and soulful way.”

So how does Mark Gerzon live in a “deep, authentic and soulful way?”

“I have two paths,” he said, “an inner one and outer one. I’ve learned that they’re syncopated. For me, the inner path has to do with meditation, reflection and intimacy, and those things that create inner awareness, solitude, mission quests, time in the wilderness, coaching and therapy, and all those things that deepen the inner life. The external path is putting myself in action, trying to achieve my mission. When I did the warrior training, my mission was ‘as a man among men I will bring integrity into my world.’ I’m amazed the key word was ‘integrity’. That’s what I really needed to work on in myself, and still do.”

Gerzon said he is publishing a new book on integrity.

“It has taken a decade for me to come to the deepest understanding of that word ‘integrity’. It’s more than being honest and telling the truth, it means coming to the whole, holding the whole. The root of the word is holy – whole and healthy. Each of those two paths, inner and outer, helps me learn about the other. The outer world teaches me about the inner life and the inner life teaches me about the outer.”

As in most interviews, the best parts of the discussion tend to be toward the end. I re-read the different types of communication Gerzon lists in his book Leaders Beyond Borders

Verbal Brawling

War of words: languages as weapon
Verbal attacks against the other side
Violations of decency and truth are common
Loose cannon – no sense of responsibility


Highly polarized pro-and-con sides on issues
Each seeks monopoly on truth – right vs. wrong
Geared towards winning, not compromising
No verbal threats or actual physical violence


One person (or panel) dominates the discourse
Question & Answer session
Not inclusive: some dominate, some never speak
Goal is information sharing, not decision-making


Resolving disputes by seeking common ground
Organized with two or more sides at the table
Assumes a willingness to compromise
Goal is a durable settlement for all stakeholders


Structured process which includes all voices
Establishes value of diverse points of view
No opportunity for immediate reaction or rebuttal
Fosters attentive listening and mutual respect


Inquiry, not advocacy, leading to new options
Participants suspend judgments to explore issues
Acknowledge value of others’ positions
Develops a wider, shared knowledge base
Identifies issues requiring resolution

According to Gerzon, Christianity apparently never developed a dialogue with China because of cultural differences.

“I worked with an old Rabbi friend who told me why Christianity historically did not make inroads into China. He said when one of the Popes first sent priests to China, the priests wanted to change the way they dressed to be more like the Chinese. The pope refused and the priests continued to dress in their own catholic garb. The priests therefore remained alien to the Chinese. My Rabbi friend told me that when you cross borders, you should be willing to change what’s not essential and be true to what is essential. That is the challenge facing MKP. We might ask what parts are not essential and what parts are essential.”

The essential part of Mark Gerzon is compassion. He said he “aspires” to the word.

“My own childhood was filled with criticism, shame and blame - like that of many men,” he added quickly. “I’ve had a long and steep path to travel to genuine compassion. It’s a daily challenge. I find myself every day thinking of myself and other people in ways that aren’t compassionate. That’s my shadow that I face daily, moment to moment, I face myself and forgive myself, and move on. It’s about an open heart. I once asked a German friend, whose father was a Nazi tank commander, what happened to his country around the time of the Third Reich. I’ll never forget what he said: “it was a massive closing of the heart” … a massive closing of the heart, he said. That statement struck me so strongly. I bet most people know what it’s like when their heart is open or closed. We’re at that kind of turning part in the United States, and perhaps around the world. We can take a fork in the road that leads us to a massive closing of the heart, or take another fork - the warrior road to pursuing our missions with an open heart and with compassion. One of the reasons I love this network is that I see it as an agent of systematic global opening of the heart. Check out Mark's web site at www.mediatorsfoundation.org

© 2005 Reid Baer

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The fame you earn has a different taste from the fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria Vanderbilt

Reid Baer, an award-winning playwright for “A Lyon’s Tale” is also a newspaper journalist, a poet with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide, and a novelist with his first book released this month entitled Kill The Story. Baer has been a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and currently edits The New Warrior Journal for The ManKind Project www.mkp.org . He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.

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