I’m often called to describe Common Ground. Be it to friends who ask what I do, to men who are considering joining a program or to the partners (often female) who are looking for things on behalf of their men.
It’s tricky because Common Ground is different things to different men. For some men it serves as a place to meet other good men, and to create a supportive network. It ould be described as reducing their emotional isolation.
Some men come to Common Ground without being sure why, they know they need something but can’t quite articulate what it is. Some men come to Common Ground having what looks like a pretty successful life, career, family, house, cars, holidays, all the trappings, but having found that this is not quite enough for them.
Others come to Common Ground broken, many having gone through a life changing upheaval, it’s not uncommon to have a man or two who are recently separated and/or divorced and perhaps are not getting to see their kids as often as he would like. Retirement or retrenchment can also send ripples through a man’s life, often marking the beginning of a new phase and throwing questions about identity into the mix.
Many men come to Common Ground not knowing what it is to be a man, and unwilling to sign up to the stereotypes that pervade our culture. We don’t tell anyone how to be, but we explore what options there are, focusing on a healthy mature version of masculinity. Newly married or partnered men, looking to do the best they can or preparing for fatherhood see Common Ground as a way of learning and getting support through new territory.
We don’t specify or exclude at Common Ground, which sometimes makes funding hard to get. We’re not for men struggling with substance abuse, but we get some men who are. We’re not a domestic violence service but we work with men who have been both perpetrators and victims. We’re not specifically for separated or estranged dads but we get a few of them.
For some men Common Ground is emotional literacy training, meant men have not learnt how to describe their emotional experience, even to themselves, it’s hard to make sense of things you don’t understand. For some men Common Ground is a therapeutic process that works by uncovering.
There are practical skills taught and learnt in Common Ground, the distinction being some are learnt without being expressly taught. Common Ground creates not only a safe place for men to open up and share, but makes it the imperative, the mission. As a facilitator I often think that if the men are sharing and talking, then we’re winning.
I’ve heard stories shared for the first time, 50 years after the event. I had men share with me and the group what it is they are afraid of, what worries them. Men have shared the experiences that made them, that nearly broke them, their anguish and their delight, because that’s what they are there to do.
Common Ground is a very accepting place, it’s a place when men can own their shortcomings and mistakes, without those mistakes being condoned, or the men condemned.
Men can be surrounded by people but still isolated. It’s possible to have heaps of mates and colleagues and a great family but still have no confidant, someone you can really share things with, without the fear of recrimination. Partners are important, in intimate relationships sharing with them is essential to keep the relationship healthy, but they should not be relied upon for all the support and sounding a man needs.
The reason Common Ground is such a powerful program, such a life changing experience for many men, and their families, is it works for everyone. This is in part because it’s flexible and works with whatever is in the room, but also because it works at a foundational level. It’s not analytical or academic (nothing wrong with either), it’s not tinkering at the edges, it works with the realities of who we are and how we can build ourselves up to be better, better fathers, partners, brother and sons, better men.
Why should you do Common Ground? Well, if there is room for improvement in your life, in the way you live, in how you do you, Common Ground will help you become the best version of you.
If you need somewhere to make sense of what goes on inside your head and heart, Common Ground is that place.
If you know you need something but aren’t sure what that it is, it’s probably Common Ground, and if you do the program and think it’s a crock of shit, we’ll give you your money back.
We’ve never been asked for a refund by someone who has completed the program, that’s because the gains far outweigh the cost. I’m lucky in that I get to talk to many men who have done the program, rather than offering some comment about the worth of the program, the vast majority rave about it, and the changes it has delivered in their life and their many relationships.