Note: This is Post #3 in Bob's series on What Will Stop Men from Buying Sex. To view previous posts, click here: Down to the roots (Post #1), Game plan (Post #2)
No, I'm not joking. Yes, I said "men" and "community" in the same sentence.
Men are notorious for being relationally uncomfortable. Some would choose a root canal over a small group discussion or an office party any day. That understood, my conviction is that, when all is said and done, the biggest tide-turner in stopping men from buying sex will prove to be a version of restorative community that is designed specifically FOR MEN.
At the risk of sounding like I'm putting all men in one box (I'm not), here are four dynamics I see as essential to what restorative community for most men can and needs to look like:
1. Going to war together, a.k.a. service projects
For many men, this is the ONLY bridge that will help us step into real relationships. Some of us may tolerate small groups and social gatherings, but will often still keep our distance even though we're regularly with people. In contrast, a context where we use our strength alongside others and achieve victory (a successfully completed project) has deep impact that can lead to lifelong and restorative relationships. Doing something together that meets a real need affirms our strength and value, and that enables us to get out of ourselves to focus on others, can be revolutionary for a man who has otherwise struggled with feeling emasculated and insecure. Such mutually-accomplished victories leave us feeling like we finally "belong". If we have that, we'll talk. If we don't, we won't.
2. Equal doses of acceptance and push
If #1 has helped us lower our walls, this is where we look next. If we can see that we are accepted, supported and affirmed wherever we are now, that helps us start being honest with ourselves and others. If that is accompanied by a culture in the group that pushes us to grow beyond where we are, that helps us start taking our own growth seriously. In contrast, if acceptance is lacking, we won't come our of our shell; and if there's no push for growth, we'll lose respect for the group, and go back into our shell.
3. Straightforward instruction
# 1 and 2 pave the way for us to actually listen to and process instruction. Without them, the best information will often go in one ear and out the other, because insecure, emasculated men will hear it as yet another way they're not pulling their weight, and they will shut down. But with #1 and 2 in place, men can (and want to) hear even the hardest truths; we feel empowered to tackle "the beast within", and some of the same dynamics from #1 get re-applied here, only this time the "project" is ME, and the "war" is fighting for healthier passions, perspectives and habits.
The bullet points of straightforward teaching about self, personal history, relationships, gender respect, sexual boundaries, etc. become part of the toolbox and instruction manual for personal change. That, in turn, challenges and inspires others, and becomes part of the energy and momentum needed for social change.
4. Restorative accountability
Most of us don't respond well to being "policed". But to be in a context where we're challenged to set our own growth goals with the input of friends, build the habit of reporting on progress (or lack thereof), and experience support from others who will both stay in the fight with us and lovingly call us to account when needed - that is often where change is most likely to happen.
Which leads to the obvious question: where does something like this happen?
1. The most important place these dynamics need to happen is at home, between father and son. In terms of long-term impact and raising a new generation that won't buy sex, this relationship trumps all others BY FAR. But Dads need support, which leads to...
2. There are some churches and faith communities that have done very well in creating these dynamics, including supporting Dads as they invest in their boys. These may in fact prove to be the most effective contexts for change because these dynamics are already built into their mission. In some cases, successes combined with good outreach have resulted in new men coming into these contexts and experiencing their benefits, and the impact of that group growing. But there are some men who will never step foot in a faith community, which leads to....
3. Historically, when has been a major social need that led to a movement of change, current social contexts that were either neutral or destructive in their impact became positive contexts for change. In the Civil Rights movement, for example, coffee shops and diners turned into planning hubs for the next actions. Could it be that college fraternities could, because of the weight of need for social change, become restorative communities that help turn the tide? Could contexts like boy scout troops, sports teams and businesses become part of the long-term solution?
Honestly, I doubt we need many more new contexts. Rather, as we wrestle personally with social evil, we'll talk about it in our current contexts, and those talks will lead to actions that will lead to change.
Bob Atherton is Amirah's Executive Director, and one who loves and has benefited greatly from restorative community .