College Paper Publishes "The Evolution of Bro Culture" 💪🏼🐛
My message for men in the metacrisis.
Hello fellow travelers,
Forgive me for the radio silence! I’ve taken a bit of a break from writing, to reflect on my essay output last year and shift focus to other creative outlets. The 6min essay I’m sharing today was actually conceived two summers ago, drafted last summer, got lost in the publishing shuffle, and finally edited this month.
tldr: Our broken systems are shaped by a culture that forgot how to initiate its men into adult responsibility. Let’s re-imagine fraternities before cancelling them.
Let me know what you think! What resonates? What doesn’t? What does it stir in you? What’s your vision for a more beautiful brotherhood?
I’m appreciating how each writing topic has a life of its own: some can’t wait to get out to the public, others patiently hide in Google Docs for select eyes only, still others want to be re-written over and over again. I have a feeling I’ll be spiraling back to the masculinity topic throughout my life.
See below for some Additional Notes on this essay, and a personal Illustrative Story.
📝 Additional Notes
When my delightfully talented sister Ilana Dunn invited me (finally!) on her dating podcast Seeing Other People last summer to talk about my f*ckboy past, I had a context to further develop some ideas that have been brewing since 2020, when I participated in an indigenous atonement ritual that forced me to reckon with a shadowy collegiate life. That ritual motivated me to become an alumni advisor of the fraternity I was in, and later co-create a Jewish mens healing experience.
Fraternities have drifted from their original intentions to develop mature and responsible men. They are on the chopping block in this round of cultural wars - MeToo, toxic masculinity, charge around patriarchy, race and privilege. Fraternities aren’t going away (alumni have too much power over the schools), and frat bros aren’t really getting the message. Much of the rhetoric is critical, blaming, polarizing. Hard for them to hear or to take inspired action. It seems like an impasse.
As a former frat bro who has done a lot of reflection and visioning around the topic, I wonder if my voice might be heard. My goals in this short piece were to:
Connect the dots between bro culture, flaws of current societal leadership, and the meta-crisis (the multiple interconnected global crises). Zooming out to highlight the larger thing that all of us have a stake in (life on Earth surviving and thriving).
Articulate a constructive “middle path” forward that focuses on fraternity transformation instead of abolishment, to develop men who can serve effectively in this time between worlds.
What I most want to drive home is the connection between behaviors learned in elite training grounds like Penn frats, and the distorted orientations our most powerful leaders have with life on Earth (nature, communities, bodies and minds - including their own). I imagine many of my readers can relate to working for or being impacted by an organization with “qualified” yet “toxic” leadership; it likely has a variety of root causes, but it’s this specific collegiate juncture between youth and professional life where that toxicity can either metastasize or transform.
I have a lot more to say on this topic, but I’m making an effort to write short and concisely. A longer and deeper essay might examine things like Vladamir Putin, the Oscar slap, Travis Kalanick, David Portnoy, Donald Trump, cancel culture, patriarchy, social justice, inclusion, partnership societies, adult developmental theory, spiral dynamics, neoliberalism, venture capital, YC, business school, male sexual trauma, somatic healing, emotional intelligence, shadow work, loneliness, addiction, archetypes, hazing, military, indigenous initiation rituals, et al. I highly recommend listening to Nicholas Powers on The Mythic Masculine podcast for some edge-pushing ideas.
All individuals and communities, regardless of generation or membership status with a Greek organization, can take steps today to support the transition to what comes next. We can broaden our perspectives by building connections across lines of difference. We can seek guidance from role models in a local men’s group or philosophers throughout the ages. We can get out of our heads and into our bodies through dance, meditation, yoga, and play. We can better know ourselves, our blind spots, our dreams. We can reflect on and clear the harm we have caused to ourselves and others, physical and emotional, overt and subtle. It only takes one.
If you have a message you feel inspired to share with the younger generations, submit an Op-Ed to your alma mater’s paper! The Daily Pennsylvanian has now published three of my pieces (A New Vision For Wharton, Letter From a Recovering Achievement Addict), with others in discussion (Elon Musk Should Buy Wharton). Students engage with them. The strict word limit and style guidelines also help sharpen one’s skills.
I keep coming back to sensitivity.
You ever have that experience where you turn a corner and almost bump into somebody, and then get into that awkward dance of who will go which way? This happens to me quite often, and I am always the one with more forward momentum, who the other person needs to make way for. Seldom have I ever been moving slow enough to pause and allow the other person to proceed in their intended way first. I see this as a microcosm for how I’ve historically moved through the web of life.
As highlighted in my article, Western culture–and particularly bro culture–atrophies our abilities to slow down and listen to our emotions, body, others, nature. We desperately need to re-sensitize ourselves and our institutions. Life is screaming at us to change our ways.
I keep learning my lessons here. While working on my savior essay and decolonization course last year, I was given a tip by a stranger to check out a special nature spot in the Mt. Shasta area. In my rushing, anxious, heady, dis-enchanted, awkward, seeking, disrespectful, objectifying and insensitive state, I unconsciously made a bathing darker skinned woman and her kids feel uncomfortable with my presence, and subsequently had my life threatened by her husband. I thought I might die then and there. The next day, I happened upon a book about the history of the indigenous people of the area, and learned about the state-sponsored California Genocide that had taken place here during the gold rush, where murder and rape of indigenous women was rampant (and still is — today American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women are nearly 2.5x more likely to be sexually assaulted than women in the general population).
While I didn’t think I had done anything wrong in the moment, I gradually understood that what my presence represented had the capacity to cause harm, and my actions indeed caused harm. In many ways, I am the young single white prospector. Who came to California for gold, glory and girls . I represented the face of the oppressor to those people. Doesn’t matter what I was writing about, what I’ve been studying, what I’ve donated to or prayed for, what my intentions were or weren’t, what I could have said to that man in the moment. My subtle actions (as much what I didn’t do as what I did do) had a real impact. It was a massive lesson around spacial sensitivity, creating safety, the power of gaze, context switching and what it means to have a white body in certain spaces.
I swore I’d do better next time.
Then in July, I was gearing up for a two week trip to the Pacific Northwest, centered around a friend’s wedding I was ecstatically looking forward to. NYC had opened back up, with COVID seemingly a thing of the past. I was out and about, moving really fast. And didn’t think anything of it when a buddy I saw just before the trip mentioned that he wasn’t feeling amazing. We hung out, I went to the airport, and promptly fell ill a couple of days later with Delta variant, which I passed on to at least one other person close to me.
Not only was I bummed to get COVID, miss the wedding, and have my life disrupted for 2+ weeks, but I also disrupted another close friend’s life (and maybe more) in passing it on to her, when I could have made easy choices to prevent the situation from unfolding. I wasn’t thinking about others. I was thinking about myself. It’s important to think about oneself. But we live in such a hyper-individualistic culture that I think we need to find ways to practice being more considerate of others needs.
Whew. I’d be thrilled to chat about these topics with anybody who feels inspired to. Just message me! Though I work with many types of people in a coaching/mentorship capacity, given my personal experiences socialized as a man, I do sense I am uniquely suited to support young men on their personal and professional journeys towards greater wholeness.
Avra (Hebrew nickname I like to play with - p.s. I’m heading to Israel in May!)