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The self-improvement of UNC’s men

By Erika Siebring
On March 5, 2017


 Acknowledging the flaws in oneself and the gaps in one’s knowledge or character is essential in order to grow into the best person an individual can be. Your Own Man does exactly that, functioning as a supportive, positive force designed to shape the lives of UNC’s male students, in an effort to help them become well-rounded individuals. Providing any male student a safe environment in which to express any vulnerabilities or other weaknesses, this group allows for the individual improvement of social, practical, and societal skills and overall quality of life, with the help of others working on the same things.

    Andrew, the founder of Your Own Man and a UNC faculty member, conducted the group’s third meeting on Tuesday with a review of the past two meetings. According to Andrew, the pilot meeting was spent discussing what it means to be a man and positive aspects that most men share; the subsequent meeting gave way to discussion about negative aspects in members’ lives that could be considered roadblocks--things that would prevent an individual from growing.

    Some of the roadblocks brought up in the previous meeting included not knowing when to ask for help from other people and putting too much pressure on oneself. Andrew believes that while self-reliance is an important trait, there is also strength in knowing oneself and thus knowing when to ask for help.  

    “There’s nothing weak about saying you’re not strong in some aspect,” Andrew said. “I wanted to start a group where men aren’t afraid to come together to talk about their issues. No man is an island--to be your own hero, you need to rely on the people around you, and because other people around you rely on you as well.”

    Tuesday’s meeting was a roundtable exploration of different skills each member would like to learn about during future meetings, using each other as resources. The idea was that each member didn’t have to be an expert in anything, but merely willing to share what they know with the rest of the group. Such skills that members said they wanted to learn included basic cooking and car care, gardening, first aid, house-care--including wiring and electrical work--sewing, financial literacy, making cocktails, crafting an argument, and building a fire.

    UNC sophomore Don MacQueen, a history and geography major and Your Own Man member, expressed a desire to discuss great ideas and thinkers in Western society through works of literature, including The Odyssey, The Iliad, and The Divine Comedy.

    “These are the books that Western civilization is built on, this is the common story language that we all speak,” MacQueen said. “I think we should also have at least something on the development of Western thought, like an introduction to Plato, to Aristotle, to St. Augustine. These are the ideas that our civilization is based on.”

    MacQueen also brought up the idea of learning about basic political theory and the definitions of well-known political systems.

    “You don’t even have to agree with the theories, or go super into depth about what they believe in and why, but I mean just basic definitions,” MacQueen said. “What is communism, what is fascism, what is parliamentary democracy, like these words get thrown around a lot in conversations, but a lot of people don’t really know what they are.”

    Andrew also expressed his desire to do volunteer work with Your Own Man in order to exercise being a positive influence on the community.

    “Part of, I think, not just being a man but being a human in general, is taking the time that you have on this Earth to grow as an individual and learn new things,” Andrew said. “I think volunteering is very humbling and fulfilling work, and it really helps create a good perspective, or helps round-out your perspective on the world.”

    The group also came up with an idea for a continuous project, in which a member will come up with a certain virtue each week--courage, honesty, or integrity for example--and everyone will talk about what it means, if they’re lacking in it, and how to improve.

    “Another thing that’s kind of this overarching theme of this whole group, this idea of being virtuous and being moral, knowing what is right what is not right,” Andrew said. “Obviously there’s exceptions to every rule, but there are some common things that we can agree on, things that are right and things that are wrong.”

    According to Andrew, while the goal of Your Own Man isn’t to tell people how to live their lives, but to merely improve the quality of one’s life, the group has received negative feedback.

    “I don’t think anything that’s been said here is incredibly negative,” Andrew said. “I think part of this group is us knowing to become men, or learning to become men. I think that we’re just as much at fault as our own lack of ability to grow up. It’s not just a man characteristic I think it’s a female characteristic too, that we all kind of share.”

    One of the major criticisms Your Own Man faces is the accusation that the group is sexist, because although it talks about universal, useful characteristics, it is exclusively for male students. However, Andrew emphasized that it is not intended to be nor acts as a group that intentionally exercises hatred for women. MacQueen said that being surrounded by people of the same gender makes it easier for the young men to fully and genuinely express themselves and the gaps or flaws in their knowledge and abilities.

    “I think that it’s more difficult for men to hold each other accountable if it’s a co-ed group,” MacQueen said. “The instant you introduce women into the group, even if the men don’t do it consciously, every one of them immediately to some degree--some more than others, but everyone one of them--immediately kind of starts putting on a display. It’s very difficult for a man to be vulnerable in a co-ed group. If it’s just one-on-one, that’s something different.”

    MacQueen explained that he started to come to the meetings because he thought it would be a useful opportunity for him to grow.

    “It’s an opportunity for men to come together and create a positive atmosphere for self-examination and self-growth,” MacQueen said. “A repeated theme we’ve been hitting regularly in these meetings is that we should be easily pleased but never satisfied. The slightest move you make towards becoming a better man, even if it’s something as simple as setting an alarm clock every morning, that should be celebrated, that’s a positive step. But, don’t be satisfied with that, always be wondering ‘What more can I do, how can I grow, how can I get better?’”

    MacQueen also appreciates the chance to be vulnerable while taking part in the group.

    “It’s strange, the world both tells men you should feel things--a man is supposed to be in-touch with his inner emotional side--but we’re not supposed to bring it out,” MacQueen said. “I think that when a man is with a small group, when he’s with men that he knows and is comfortable with them, then he should not be afraid to be vulnerable, and to say ‘This is something I’m not good at, this is something that I’m afraid of.’ It’s a way to learn how to be vulnerable.”

    Andrew explained that the goals for Your Own Man are more or less open-ended, but the idea is to let other students know that there are other people who struggle with the same things.

    “If I can get one guy that can look himself in the mirror in the morning and say ‘Hey, I’m better than I was yesterday and I’m working towards becoming a better me, and this is something that I love doing or I love about myself,’ that’s great,” Andrew said. “The first big hurdle is coming to these things, and I think once guys do that, and they see it’s either A, for them or B, not for them, they can make their own opinions up.”

    The group welcomes all new members or students wanting to see what Your Own Man is all about. Any male student wishing to come to the group’s meetings can email [email protected] to join the mailing list and get information about weekly meeting times and locations.

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