The Art of Letting Go: A Portrait of the Surrendered Activist as a Young Man

Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on” ~Eckhart Tolle

I remember watching cartoons as a kid and seeing that classic image of a makeshift white flag timidly rising up from behind a rock. It was a source of humour, the act of surrender.

I grew up in the Jane and Finch community with young boys from different countries, spaces and places worldwide. Despite numerous differences we usually had two things in common: some sort of disconnect from our father and a love for aggressive TV or Film heroes. No retreat, no surrender, no backing down, not ending up the loser in a conflict or test of strength, that was our bombs-bursting-in-air and tough-as-nails idea of manhood.

Fast forward to 2011, I wore a white ribbon pin everywhere I go. With dozens of ribbons out there to represent a variety of issues these days, people ask me “why the colour White?” in addition to the usual question “what does a White Ribbon mean?” Many people greet it as heroic, but some people see it as cowardly. For some men, once they initially hear the group’s focus is ending men’s violence against women, they get upset, or feel ‘left out’. “What about violence men face?” they ask. To them I explain how this is part of a greater conversation on how violence has wrapped its hands around the throats and minds of men and we need to find role models of healthy masculinity to encourage men to be themselves. Some men don’t let me get that far in the conversation, or allow themselves to hear it. They feel threatened by it all, as if under attack and an internal hyper-masculinity-survival mode kicks in.

They see the white flag. They see surrender.

Weakness, soft, cowardly…this is not what a man is, and why is it always our fault?

For them, they see it as surrender

The white flag is an internationally recognized as a symbol asking for a truce or ceasefire, and to request negotiation. It is a symbol of surrender, signifying to all that there is an intention and a desire to communicate.

Speaking of communication, one of those things many guys love to do is read in the bathroom (great segue) and I have a few magazines sitting there for that purpose. I was oddly moved to pick up a yoga magazine I have glanced over many many times and meant to replace with a new issue. Sometimes the greatest gift is to see that which you have already seen. My fingers open the magazine right to an article explaining the term ‘surrendered activist’.

A surrendered activist: a person who does their best to help create a better reality while knowing that they are not in charge of outcomes.

I then recalled being at the United Black Students of Ryerson’s fall 2010 edition of their highly-successful ‘Ladies and Gents’ event. Young men and women separate into 2 rooms to discuss their gender and subsequent experiences then everyone gathers afterwards to share. One topic the men covered was coming across a white woman showing discomfort being in a closed space like an elevator. The conversation looked at the balance between creating a safe space for the women, while dealing with possible reactions of stereotypes and assumptions due to race.

One brother spoke on how he would go out of his way to smile and defuse any fears by breaking any stereotype she might have of a man, a black man. Another voice came from a recognized leader in the space. He said how he is tired of having to bear the burden of breaking racist stereotypes “my shoulders aren’t big enough” he said. Instead he said he know focuses on “being the best me I can be”. Both these responses resonated deeply within me, along with the anger of someone assuming things about me that are not me. I can control that which I can control.

Agitate, educate, enlighten, respond, create, guide, inspire or show someone, yes, all these things we can do and be…but then we have to let go.

Many of our sisters will tell you, whether its heterosexual women dealing with the challenges of dating men, or our LGBT2S sisters who strive for relationships with fathers, brothers and other loved ones and friends, that you alone cannot change a man. The individual themselves must first be ready for change, real change.

Author bell hooks speaks of how men are afraid of change, but they are many who are willing. They “must be able to let go of the will to dominate. They must be able to choose life over death. They must be willing to change”. It is not as simple as just saying and doing it, and it requires more bravery than words can express, but it starts with you. We can only do so much, and it starts with just being a role model with your words and actions.  We have a voice and we have a choice, so choose change…and then let go.

Surrender to the fact that you alone cannot change the world and all outcomes of life, just change you.

Surrender to who You really are, to the freedom to be who You want to be and who You were meant to be.

Sweet surrender.

About jeff perera
Jeff Perera has spoken to tens of thousands of people of all genders across North America about our ideas of Manhood, and how we as men can Be the Lesson in Action.

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