Our current global pandemic has been a powerful reminder of the importance of connection with our fellow men. Yet, in the age of Zoom meetings for every occasion – formal or otherwise – men are still falling through the cracks. Can any of us really say that we haven’t felt at least a moment of loneliness, longing for connection and support, searching for meaning? In these moments, what we need is brotherhood.
The problem is not necessarily that we are low on mates, rather that we haven’t quite perfected our balance of mates and brothers. Mates are an absolute essential in our life. These men are around through thick and thin, always ready for a round of golf or a chat about the footy, perennially armed with beer and banter, both of varying quality. In contrast, brothers are the men with whom we share a deeper kind of friendship. With a brother, there is a different sense of feeling and energy: when they ask, “How are you, mate,” you know they mean it deeply. They want the warts-and-all answers just as much as the good – they ask the question so they might journey alongside you through whatever response. Brothers are there when you are a bit stuck and need some advice, or even to be gently challenged.
Think about the men around you in life. Do you have loads of great mates but no one to help you grow, hold you accountable or provide wisdom in trying times? Or perhaps all your male friends are about investing in your journey of growth, without filling your quota of banter and good times? If either of these are true, you may need to work towards a balance in brotherhood.
There could be many reasons for an imbalance of mates and brothers.
Being a brother to a mate can be made more difficult when your families are particularly close. Maybe your wives are best mates, or your children hang out at school together. Going deep on any family issues may be a whole lot tougher with those extra conditions of pressure around you, leaving less space for that two-way relationship of supported growth.
Sometimes you might be expecting too much from a mate that isn’t right for a role. Each man and relationship has their strengths – some will be better suited as brothers and others as mates. It is important that you respect the time and place that you make for these different relationships. If you arrange to head to the footy with a mate, diving into deep conversation after the third Kiwi try is far from ideal. There is a time and place for mates and a time and place for brothers.
While we are arguably more connected now through the world of social media, this great resource can serve as a barrier to brotherhood. We get so accustomed to seeing the latest update on Facebook or Instagram, that we start to focus on these surface level interactions in real life too. We throw ‘likes’ at pictures of new children or grandchildren; congratulate a status update about a new job or relationship; send a message to celebrate a birthday. These are the easy mateships – the simple and instant affirmations we provide in response to the big things in life. If your interactions with mates are only surface level, a deeper brotherhood is very difficult to build. As brothers we connect to ask if the baby is healthy and the family have all they need; we offer comfort to the brother whose last job or relationship ended abruptly; we open a bottle of scotch for a brother’s birthday to chew the fat on health and aging, easing any anxieties around another year of progression through life.
Our goal as Universal Men should be to actively cultivate our relationships. Look for one mate and one brother and have the courage to make time for both. For some of us, the first step may be to reach out and help someone else.
If you sense one of your brothers is not in a good space, call. It might mean calling again and again or sending a text. What you are saying is, “I’m here for you. And when you are ready, when the space is right, I’m going to be there for a drink and a chat.”
Maybe what you really need is more mates. Take one of your interests and commit to pursuing it. Join a golf club or a rugby club, a running group, a choir – any group that you know shares your interests. Find those guys who you know you can get along with, have a laugh and share good times. If you need brothers, look for space that can provide an opportunity to get to a deeper level with another fellow out there who is on the same journey as you. Universal Man is a great example of such a space.
Make those simple choices to schedule time with mates and time to check-in with brothers. It doesn’t mean that whenever you catch up you have to go deep straightaway. You simply know that the guy is there for you and you are there for them.
Isolation from mates and brothers for too long is a trap that we easily fall into amongst the time we put into work and family. Yet, if you’re trying to solve a problem in life and you’re doing it on your own, your chances of success plummet. While seeking good solitude can be a great tool to problem-solve, a prolonged time away from your brothers can be a real warning sign that things aren’t right. Rarely are there new problems in life – someone has always been there and been through it. So, when things are going on and you have a challenge to get through, find a brother. When you’ve been caught up with family or work for too long and you need to let off some steam, get out with your mates. Pay attention to why you are feeling isolated so that you know who to call on to break you out of that bubble.
Taking that little risk to let a brother in can be daunting. Whether it is you or one of your brothers doing it tough, that initial check-in might bring about feelings of uncertainty or shame that stop you from following through with a deeper conversation. We need to act with courage to make the call to a mate and take that call from a mate. When we take the risk to make that time and place for delving deeper into life with a brother, we open up the space for growth that brotherhood provides.
A final trap to avoid is to lack diversity in your brothers. Embracing diversity of age, experience and background within your brotherhood can enrich and enliven your own growth and development in ways that hearing the same opinions regularly cannot. This is where the Universal Man tenets of know thyself, grow thyself and brotherhood come together so beautifully. When you meet someone who comes from a different background, experience or belief system as you and you spend quality time with them without judgement, you start to learn an enormous amount about yourself and the way the world works. You allow yourself to be challenged and open space for an uniquely enriching brotherhood that promotes true inner growth. So, if you find yourself in a bit of a bubble where everyone is saying the same things all the time (an enormous trap right now, fueled by our constantly rolling and predominantly negative news cycle), then it will be good for your soul and your mindset to go and spend time with people who can provide a new or different perspective.
So, seek the balance that you need in your life. Embrace the men who give you the energy of mateship and have the courage to go deeper with the men who are your brothers. Remember that, in brotherhood, it is through giving and supporting other men that you, too, receive support
Never underestimate the power of brotherhood. That is who we are called to be: brothers who walk beside one another, helping them to be the best man they can be. Through finding the balance of enjoying both mates and brothers in life, we live truly as Universal Men.
Pricey and Grego