“…That’s when the crisis point starts to happen and people know they have to seek out something to help them get some clarity, find solutions, or talk about how they’re feeling to make sense of it.”
David Fuller is a film-maker and journalist who founded the media platform Rebel Wisdom with a mission to challenge ideas and ‘reboot the system’. He believes masculinity, as an ideal, is in crisis and we need to ‘think differently in order to create a new kind of model’. In addition to the media platform, Rebel Wisdom runs men’s retreats called ‘The New Masculinity’, to create an open and honest space from which to challenge existing preconceptions of masculinity. We’re in the midst of a paradigm shift, and men are struggling. In the UK, they’re 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than women. With an average 84 men a week taking their own lives, suicide is the biggest prevailing killer for those under 50. Something’s got to give.
David believes the growth of men’s groups can be an open-source means of addressing individual needs, and aims to bring a deeper frame of enquiry to the conversation; using techniques like mindfulness, self-enquiry and active listening.
As part of Mental Health Awareness month, we’ve been looking at the rise of community groups, technology, workshops and online forums as emerging and alternative routes to self-progression. We spoke to David about his work championing open communication and community amongst men, and what he believes to be the drive for people seeking new ways to self-empowerment.
Who’s attending your retreats and what’s drawing them in?
“We’re getting a lot of guys in our workshops who are open-hearted, forward thinking and self-reflective and they want to be better men — or better people. They’re liberal and progressive but they’re also terrified and conflicted and may have never had the space to reveal suppressed emotion. Maybe they’ve been to therapy, but it wasn’t for them. Most of them are new to personal growth, they’re reaching out for the first time and are not the usual suspects that you would expect to be open to self-help.
There’s some truth to the narrative that men are not as good at expressing themselves or being as emotionally sophisticated as women, but that doesn’t mean that they are faulty women or if they were more like women everything would be better. It’s a difficult thing to express, it’s a complex subject.
If you’re going to a workshop aimed at improving certain aspects of your life, you’re already improving and humble enough to know there are things you need to sort out. It’s about mindfulness and inner sovereignty. Owning yourself and being true to yourself”.
Why is it so important for people to find a safe space to communicate?
“Anger and aggression has to be acknowledged and focused and channeled — the angriest people are those who pretend they’re not angry. You’ve suppressed it so far down you can’t express it, but now the world starts reflecting it back to you. That integration of the shadow (Carl Jung’s theory on the importance of acknowledging the darker aspects of our personality) is crucial, and denying it will mean it keeps a grip on you. It’ll trigger you and you’ll be taken over by it, because you haven’t built a relationship with it. Depression is often anger turned inwards, it’s anger at yourself.
Altering your lifestyle is important for mental health — making better choices about your physical activity and learning — but you also need to alter communication about how you’re feeling and how you can unlock it in a healthy way. There’s empowerment in taking action towards that.
If I were to do nothing else, I want to mainstream the idea that a men’s group every couple of weeks is of huge value. Therapy is just the exchange of truth with a compassionate person. That’s the baseline. You can get that in many ways, but traditional therapy doesn’t always work for men. To have that among male friends and colleagues in groups is vital. It doesn’t feel like therapy and it doesn’t have the same stigma, but it is therapy. We call it Vitamin M. It feels really important in us, there’s trust and brotherhood and connection and honesty”.
What motivates self-progression?
“It’s different for every person — but it’s often the result of crisis. They realise something isn’t right but are unsure of how to change it. For me, it was a relationship break down and a difficult work situation, where I felt had the same dynamic with my boss that I had with my father. I didn’t want to see those patterns repeating.
Something happens to people between the ages of 30 and 40. The personality we’ve had starts to break down and, in some sense, we reach a personal limit. That has to happen. Even if we’re successful and loved and popular, something happens at that age where we reassess, and we might realise ‘this isn’t what I wanted’. We look at our goals in life and where we are on that path. Perhaps you realise your relationships are not as deep as you want them to be. Or you’re married, and you suddenly realise it’s not what you thought it would be or you’re not who you once were.
That’s when the crisis point starts to happen and people know they have to seek out something to help them get some clarity, find solutions, or talk about how they’re feeling to make sense of it.”
What does the process look like?
“You can’t ever solve something until you look at how you are creating that situation. You start from a position of taking full responsibility — even if you’re only adding to a situation by 10% — and then you learn how to stop it from happening again.
I’ve learnt from experience that it’s possible to change the narrative and break patterns, but the challenge is knowing where to turn to, or where to go to begin the process. Friends might not ‘get it’, therapy might be too expensive or not work for you. There may be a period of time where you want to make changes and reveal patterns or get some clarity but you’re not sure where to go. It can be isolating. You may be stranded until you find that ‘strength moment’, or some direction to figure out where to go next.
It’s not just topping up once, to recharge your batteries when you have a moment of crisis, but how to sustain personal evolution on a regular basis with the tools you can drop into again and again. The pain point is expressing things that you need to but haven’t been able to before and the challenge is to explore that depth and take it in to all our relationships in all aspects of our lives”.
Can technology help us on the path to self-progression?
“It’s important to create in-person connections, but technology — like wellbeing apps that use personality mapping to look at your challenges and growth — could be the solution to supporting people outside of that. By building it into a social platform it could show you the things you need to know, opening you up from within a moderated, thought provoking process, rather than wringing out our dopamine and automatic reactions to gain value from monopolising our attention.
Social media platforms are a self-extinguishing toxic system and many people are abandoning them in search of something new. They’re designed to reflect the worst aspects of ourselves; creating reactivity and rewarding narcissism, polarisation and shallow connections over deep connections– everything that is destabilising society. Those are the tools that we currently have but they’re not intrinsic to technology or to humans. We need to create personal growth technology that pulls out the best aspects of ourselves, rather than rewarding the worst.
How can we have a life that satisfies our deepest yearning to feel? Joseph Campbell said: ‘We’re not searching for the meaning of life, we’re searching for an experience that resonates on the deepest level of being alive. That’s the level we’re all looking for’. Our basic human needs might be being met, but we’re not sure how to actualise our higher needs. We need the tools to help us get there”.