“Real Strength” is a new program launching out of Meriden that I am just tickled beyond words to be a part of. It is a violence prevention program aimed to reduce men’s violence through a mentorship model. Essentially, we’re challenging men to be introspective, and to see how the vast problem of violence against women and children is hurting far more than women and children. Men are not only the primary (not only) aggressors of violence toward women and kids, but also to other men. When you ask young boys to talk about it, they see the contradiction. They are asked to develop into tough guys, but being a tough guy often lands them in a boatload of trouble and/or with having to deny, even to themselves, who they really are. They are hurting each other and themselves.
In our work, we quickly learned that showing “Real Strength” requires working with men and boys to completely redefine the concept of strength. It requires tremendous courage; not the kind of courage we think it takes to put up fists. Turns out, that’s too easy. We are looking for a “moral courage,” to coin my colleague, Carlton Smith. The courage that comes with acknowledging our uncertainty, our imperfection, our softer inner voices.
This (above) African symbol of strength we found incredibly meaningful and humbling. Real Strength being defined as “strength + humility” grabbed us. That is what moral courage means. That’s where the fear lives, in the part that keeps us centered in humility. Our challenge is not to pretend we are not afraid, but to let our fear ground us, though not stop us.
We have a million examples, right? Usually, our examples of courage in the face of fear come with new milestones. Riding a bike, a scooter, a skateboard (anything that requires protective headgear) requires courage in the face of fear. My kids are still nervous about losing their training wheels, though they are both ready. Their courage hasn’t yet caught up, but it will.
Strength tempered with humility may also be the first two ingredients in a recipe for an authentic life, and I think that’s where I lost my breath seeing this symbol that integrates them both.
For me, blogging itself is an act of tremendous strength and courage. I am quite introverted by nature, which runs a contradictory to the fact that I’m terribly opinionated. Likewise, I am a shy leader. I also wish to prove to myself, for some reason that I have yet to fully understand, that we do not have to live fragmented lives, with our “work” selves, “mom” selves, “play” selves and “altruistic” selves never meeting each other in between shifts. In my desire to figure out how to have it all, the career, the family, the healthy habits; I need to integrate them. That means work will see more of the insecurities that follow me home than is typically allowed or “attractive”.
It is scary. It is scary to blog about an imperfect past, a life many pounds heavier, health woes that brought me to my knees, insecurities that keep me up at night. It is frightening to admit that I take my responsibility to secure decent wages for staff who work with those we serve incredibly personally. Those are the very insecurities, however, that while I’m hiding behind them in my office, our youth are hiding behind fists (and worse), and adult men may be hiding behind road rage or abusing their spouses and partners.
I am trepidatiously granting myself permission to show my fears with my talents and treasures, as I hope and invite you to do the same. Together, that may be the only road back to “Real Strength.”