What is the secret to creating a sustainable men’s group, and ensuring that it has depth and meaning and continues to grow?
Sydneysiders David Pointon and Ben Hughes wanted to make sure their initiative – The Men’s Table – would endure when they invited 16-18 guys to a private restaurant in Surry Hills in 2011 to establish a monthly men’s group.
“We asked each other, 'who wants to grow old together? Are we in it for the long haul?',” recalls David, who ran a management consulting business and was part of a networking group with Ben at the time. It was at a networking function where Ben, who had struggled with depression, opened up about his experience, to which other guys said, ‘We know exactly how you feel.’
“He realised at that point that every time he put his heart on this sleeve to share how he was going it opened up the door to other men to kind of walk through. So the next week he stood up at the meeting and said, ‘I want to start a men’s group’,” says David.
That first group still meets. “We forged into the clear dozen men who were committed to the long term. We're in this row boat together.”
While this group is now stable and closed, David and Ben decided the model could work elsewhere and late last year they set about expanding the charter of The Men’s Table.
“We asked our guys, what are some of the things we have been doing that has made this work?” he explains.
This led to establishing a set of ground rules and guidelines; the men documented a two-page manifesto called the Fundamentals, detailing how a Men’s Table works.
“Essentially, we meet over dinner and we talk about the highs and lows of our lives and how we feel about that,” he says. “That’s the main guideline: talk from the heart, don’t just tell the story about what’s happening in your life, but how you feel about that.”
Gatherings place a strong emphasis on listening. No fixing. There is a natural tendency for any person to want to ‘save’ another who appears vulnerable or distressed. At a Men’s Table dinner, blokes are encouraged to hold the space, and allow whatever is arising to be aired without barging in with a solution, unless of course practical strategies or feedback are solicited from individuals.
“Men are getting much more comfortable about sharing,” says David. Some common themes he has observed are men’s struggle with purpose, new ways to relate to their partner, and wondering how to be “more vulnerable and open as a man while at the same time being in a culture that expects me to live out that stereotype of being the tough guy.”
Taking the Men’s Table format to a wider group, Ben and David held a public information night they called an Entree attended by 8-10 guys. By the end of that night they had three guys saying they wanted to start some tables. “We ran another Entree and the same thing happened, so we knew something was going on.”
When they asked the guys why they had come along, the men heard some common themes. One guy said he sat at home watching TV while his wife arranged an active social life for herself.
David and Ben sensed a desire for blokes to break out of a syndrome they called ‘social laziness’ and create something for themselves.
There are now 15 Tables in Sydney and others in Perth, Launceston and Auckland, the Southern Highlands and Barry on the NSW South Coast. Plans are afoot to support the growth of many more Tables across Australia. Growth has thus far happened through word of mouth, but any large scale expansion will require investment for training Table hosts.
The Men’s Table will hold a Big Banquet Christmas Gathering for all those currently involved in the program with a launch event on Thursday 27 February 2020 in the Sydney CBD.
In the short term, the next Entree will take place on 11 December at the Shakespeare Hotel in Surry Hills.
Go to Menstable.org for information about starting a Table, joining a Table or coming to an Entree.
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