Time Machines Are Real
I've* been sitting with both the truth of the statement and pressing question posed by Nora Samaran in her essay, The Opposite of Rape Culture Is Nurturance Culture: "Men do not talk to one another about nurturance skills: doing so feels too intimate, or the codes of masculinity make doing so too frightening. If they can’t ask and teach each other – if they can’t even find out which other men in their lives would welcome these conversations – then how do they learn?"
Indeed, reviewing my own personal history I cannot easily conjure up memories of positive male role models or even minimal guidance from male adults or peers that helped me navigate my own embodied feelings, helped me clarify causes of personal pain and the lack of fairness in the world, or highlighted the necessity of extending such care and attention to those around me. Regrettably, the answer to her question seems to be that if we learn nurturance skills at all they come at the expense of others.
In the past decade of life alone there are countless events I wish I could go back and change. If only I had been attuned to the root matter of my own depression and sadness I then might have been available to the people around me. If I had not been actively turning my attention away from my own vulnerability and needs could I have heard and responded to the desires of a former loved one? Would I have neglected a friend in need if my childhood experiences of intimacy weren't all tainted with male violence and abuse?
At times the remorse becomes obsessive, where I circulate over repetitive thoughts: "I wish I could go back and just tell myself then how to have handled that crisis, that heartache, that shitty job, that community college, and the importance of that friendship I let wilt away or that person I should have shown more kindness." How amazing it would be to travel back in time and shake myself with some profound truths that I now know! Yet there is no going back and I have to accept that I've caused many broken relationships that now litter the history of many people who I've come into contact with.
But, it occurs to me now that time machines are real. We do have the capacity to travel both into the past and shape the future. Not in the literal sense of changing the past (though correcting and unearthing the real historical record is a needed ongoing task), or flying through a time warp to alter one's personal destiny and such. We shape time through our actions today and our willingness to be a container for those seeking guidance.
I continue to encounter younger men who remind me in some way or another of a hardship I was navigating at their age, or an existential crisis I was wrecked by, or a hopelessly impossible situation I was expected to be able to confront in my minimal wisdom. And it dawns on me that I do have this opportunity to time travel through showing care for these men seeking guidance.
What if some positive male role model had served as a container for the men who abused me when they were still impressionable? How might that have changed the shape of my own history? These things didn't happen and that form of the past is fixed. But when the past comes up at you in the form of another man seeking meaning and compassion for their tangled emotions, which they have been told can only be expressed through anger, violence, and stoicism; it's an occasion where some force has presented you with a chance to shape many futures. Contained in these moments are the potential of forming a future you hope had been made for yourself, while also enabling some reconciliation of your own haunted past.
Show up for these scenarios. Help be a man that facilitates other men learning nurturance so that we can begin to minimize the number of times that such learning, if it happens at all, comes at the expense of harming others. And scale these moments up by involving yourself in communities and organizations that are making it their mission to challenge men to do this work and alter some forms of the future that without intervention could become a survivor's past.
*These reflections are from the vantage point of a white cis-man in his early thirties.