A Man
Overboard

 

 

 

June interview with Curtis Mitchell


Curtis Mitchell is a powerful leader, and a gentleman – a rare quality indeed in MKP.

Over the past four years, I have gotten to know Curtis through my work as Editor of The New Warrior Journal. And I can tell you, he has never – ever – shown me anything except complete consideration and respect. (A blessing which does not always come with being a reporter like me.)

And, I’ve gotten to know and love him even more since he stepped down from two terms as the Chairman of The ManKind Project.

When I experienced a crisis recently, I went directly to Curtis for support. He held my energy is such a way that I could breathe again, and settle into some perspective. (My dear reader, I hope you have at least one man in your life you can do that with.)

Before I was able to begin the interview with the Past Chairman, Curtis invited me to deal with what was up with me. I was an emotional wreck.

“I’m still your friend, and I want to talk about you, first,” he said, with a tone that calmed me down.

Even remembering this now brings tears to my eyes.

As I pushed with my nervous energy, Curtis continued to hear me and talk to me in a nurturing way.

“It’s more important that you be in a good place right now, and then we’ll do the interview,” he added.

It was this Curtis Mitchell, with his enormous compassion and years of experience, that inspired the new Editorial Policy found at The New Warrior Journal. And, he is the one who helped me accept more fully the depth of my own trauma. Doing that work with him in that moment actually created a healing transformation for me. Men, this is the magic of our work.

“Your trauma is not only personal and interpersonal, it’s also institutional and cultural,” the Past Chairman told me. “Let’s say you were traumatized by your father [correct on that account] but you were also traumatized by the cultural way he was brought up.”

I was talking to a man who was reading my soul. It is true. My father was the second born in a family where work on the farm was all there was to life, and his father was the task master. It was about pure survival. My ancestors came over to the West from Switzerland and lived in mud huts originally. They scraped an existence right out of the hard cold soil of Logan, Utah. So, my father being a more sensitive soul, gravitated to his mother and his sisters for interaction. He was mocked for it by his father and older brother. He was ridiculed for being the only child of 12 to go to college. He became a full professor with a PhD at Indiana State University.

In those days, “sensitive” men were often treated mercilessly. He carried some of that Tyrant that he was taught into our home where I was the number two child – the more “sensitive” of the children - and where I received the same kind of abusive treatment he had gotten.

Curtis gets this. Curtis gets me.

I asked Curtis how he came by this insight.

“I didn’t understand the nature of cultural trauma at first,” he began. “I didn’t really recognize it until this past year. I’ve seen clearly how culturally and institutionally derived wounds show up in a man. It’s a phenomenon that I’ve been wondering about for awhile; it’s not come home so clearly until this year. There are real somatic and visceral body reactions to trauma. It’s a problem where a man can get so charged and seized up with this archetypal energy from the culture that it becomes very dangerous – it’s dangerous when men are not able to communicate with one another.”

I don’t know anyone who is more conscientious or precise with words than Curtis Mitchell. From a writer’s point of view, I admire this quality. Some of you may call it “intellectualism” – and, if you’ve been following Jim Mitchell’s work you’ll understand that MKP is not only about the heart, it should include the head as well.

Curtis is a wordsmith. Some considered that a liability, as a writer, I see it as a strength that also blesses our heart work. I wish more men were as well-read and consciously aware as Curtis Mitchell is.

“We do have some anti-intellectualism in MKP. Who did Lenin shoot after he shot all the lawyers? It was the teachers.”

I asked Curtis if men had ever misinterpreted his words as Chairman, or misunderstood him personally.

“One misunderstanding that happened … it’s more of a regret that I have about my proposal of ‘creating a culture of generosity.’ Some people thought it was just a ploy to get money. That’s not what cultivating a culture of generosity is about; it’s about cultivating the capacity to be generous. It’s about creating sacred abundance. For me, one of the reasons I’ve worked so hard in life is so I can develop my own capacity to be a generous man. I have more of a capacity to be generous, and I’ve devoted it to service in MKP.”

So, how will you continue to be generous with your leadership in MKP?

“It all depends on what the Project does,” he replied, in a bit of a cryptic tone that Curtis is famous for … “I’ll continue to serve on the Compensation Committee, the Process Safety Committee, the Structure Committee, and the Shadow Committee.”

I wonder what he’ll do in his spare time …

I asked Curtis what he’s learned as Chairman.

“Not a fucking thing,” he quipped. “Let me think about that … the most important thing I’ve learned is about the nature and depth of human suffering. I’m able to witness and care more deeply about other people’s suffering. I want to alleviate useless suffering.”

Curtis said he wept repeatedly through his first nine NWTA staffings. I relate. I cried through my first three years of MKP.

How can we develop more compassion in MKP?

“Compassion isn’t the only virtue we need to cultivate,” he added, quickly. “Compassion alone won’t rectify the situation. That’s my belief. I think we also need courage, and generosity, and wisdom. Compassion is a Lover’s virtue, and we need to come full circle with men.

What is the biggest threat to the future of MKP?

“The biggest threat to the organization is for us to be overwhelmed by cultural shadows that are filled with huge collective, rather than personal, archetypal energies. Sometimes there is a collective naiveté where we only want to deal with things that are good. There is some not-good energy in our organization that gets trapped as shadow material – a blind spot - and as an educational and training entity, we have to recover that and send it into the light.”

I hear a warning voice in Curtis that I hear from Dr. Robert Moore – or John the Baptist crying from the wilderness.

I got to work Curtis a little here as I pressed him on the flip side of naiveté.

“The flip side of naiveté is cruelty,” he declared forcefully, as I let the words sink deeply into my soul. “Naiveté is an inappropriate vulnerability, and it invites cruelty.”

Man, oh man, this was giving me cold chills. I’m hearing that there is a force in all of us that exploits vulnerability. I know I do it. Others do it to me. I’m processing this and believing my transformation is about holding appropriate vulnerability – just like the martial artists who have an iron fist in a velvet glove.

Curtis said his 3rd quarter report received many reactions from men, and I might say over-reactions.

“I was amazed how many misunderstood how I was using the word ‘justice’, as in asking us to become Just Men, Agents of Justice. I was asking men to stop being unjust, and it was as if they resented it. I was asking men to stop taking advantage of one another, stop abusing one another, and stop being tolerant of abuse.”

I had to ask what Curtis thought of the new Chairman of MKP. I thought he’d give me some sweet and solicitous answer. I believed him when he spoke with authenticity.

“Jim Mitchell has enormous courage. He is a brilliant analyst of group dynamics, and how individual personalities contribute to a circle. He works really hard on himself so he can be aware of his own shadows and how they show up. He does that better than most men I’ve ever seen.”

I asked Curtis if he had survived the slings and arrows of men’s projection around his leadership. I owned my own projections with him.

“You’re completely alone, then … no one else suffers from that.”

I laughed out loud.

Are you relieved that you don’t have to hold those projections in an official capacity anymore?

“Absolutely,” was his one word reply.

He added: “After a certain point, the accumulated weight of those projections can make it impossible for a leader to lead effectively. Then it’s time for that person to step down.”

I’m thinking of the quote, “The king is dead, long live the king.”

I hope we don’t so easily slay our kings.

So what is Curtis Mitchell going to be doing to take care of himself?

“I’m resting, spending time with people who love me. I’m a private person, really. I’m doing things that bring me pleasure. One of the things I’m doing is to be a better healer – it’s also what I do for a living.”

My dear reader, I honor Curtis Mitchell. I have always trusted him. He has never discounted or undermined me personally, or as your Editor.

I thanked him for his honorable service as our Chairman. He’s always been an ally to me.

“Reid, MKP needs you. And, I’m honored that you consider me a man you can trust with your reactions. That’s the kind of man I want to be: a man who can create a safe enough trust where friendship can develop. My goal is to be worthy of that trust.”

Curtis, you are a worthy friend to me.

© 2007 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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