Jan 26 2010

What is the Mankind Project (MKP) and the Victories of the Heart (VOH)?

To the critical eye, there are many similarities and differences between these two men’s programs in purpose, organizational structure and culture, programs, size,  use of secrecy, nudity, forced silence, recruitment of psychotherapy clients as weekend participants, general recruitment, leadership, and impact of programs.

In some ways, comparing these two programs is like comparing New York City and a small neighborhood in western Montana.

MKP’s New Warrior Training Adventure has men’s centers around the world offering experiences to men of all walks of life. VOH offers programs only in Chicago and mostly to white middle-upper middle class men from the affluent North Shore.

MKP has dwarfed VOH in developing successful men’s programming and has an international impact. VOH may have had the same dreams, but they have not been realized, and likely, never will.

A significant difference is that MKP is an international program with Men’s Centers around the globe. The last data I read was that tens of thousands of men have participated in MKP’s programs.

Also, MKP has a new policy of transparency that encourages participants and staff guys to speak openly about the activities of the weekend.

This is a new development and one that distinguishes it above and beyond the other awareness programs in the Chicago, including the Victories of the Heart that foolishly continues to use secrecy as a shield to hide controversial and/or poorly developed programs, such as its Shadow Weekend.

There is  progress with the Victories of the Heart Breakthrough, Wisdom Years and even the Shadow programs.

The schedule and activities of the Breakthrough Weekend is posted on the website, but the Shadow Weekend  still adheres to a “keep things secret” policy. The website does not specify any detailed information about this program, while the Breakthrough Weekend has an accurate schedule of activities.

VOH  is mainly an Evanston/Chicago based program with a fledgling program in Boston for it’s Wisdom Years program. However, there is no scheduled Boston Wisdom Years weekend and no explanation.

Here are some other similarities I see in both organizations and programs:

  • Visions of both organizations are similar… “men healing men healing communities, healing the planet…”
  • Both programs advertise and promote men continue their work in ongoing groups.
  • After the weekend there is a “celebration” for all participants, their family, and their friends.
  • Men are encouraged to “suspend belief” in the routine world and enter into a slightly altered state of reality.
  • Each program utilizes psychodrama. VOH calls it heartwork and MKP calls it as carpet work or guts work.
  • Both programs have policies about openness and transparency with MKP having the most positive and enlightened policy of letting people know exactly what will happen during the weekends.
  • Participants are encouraged to “step-up” and become volunteer staff to help the program in various ways.
  • The cost of the weekend is about the same ($600-700).
  • The leaders are very ambitious and want their programs to spread around the globe. This has happened for MKP.
  • For VOH, the desire is there to spread the programhoweverthey continue to have trouble filling weekends in the Chicago area.
  • Leaders receive financial compensation for their work.
  • Both programs advertise being not-for-profit corporations and operate with volunteer Boards of Directors.

Here are some differences between the programs:
Conflict Resolution:

  • MKP teaches clearings, accountability and personal responsibility, including paying attention to what may be unconscious.
  • VOH strives for consensus in decision-making at the present time.
  • In VOH, there is a core failure to recognize a widely held belief that conflict resolution builds strength in relationships and organizations.
  • If there is one reason why VOH continues to falter on the brink of closure, it is this failure.
  • Leaders are there for life, unless they bring conflict to the table, then they are manipulated and pressured out, often with some sort of judgment they are not good leaders or leadership material.

Nudity:

  • MKP uses nudity in situations appropriate for the context, it is explained on the website,  and nudity is not required.
  • VOH’s Shadow Weekend has used nudity extensively in the past without offering any conceptual rationale. It leaves one with the sense the leaders themselves do not understand why they are using nudity.
  • There is no mention of nudity on the VOH website. I was told by Paul Kachoris at my last leader meeting the solution to nudity at the Shadow weekend was to “have the men wear black gym shorts.”  (Writers’ note: The website now states there is NO nudity at the shadow weekend and I have been told the program is redesigned. September 7, 2016)
  • OK. So is this true? If so, how did the men change from their clothing to the black gym shorts? Were they nude at any time during this process? If so, did anyone see them nude or watch them take their clothes off?

I will continue to request public disclosure about the use of nudity during this weekend especially on their website where it may be readily available to anyone interested in participating.

The extensive and confusing use of nudity during this weekend is an example of how these intelligent and dynamic leaders  sabotage themselves.
At this point in time,  I would never refer any man to this Victory of the Heart Shadow Weekend experience. It seems like “nudity for shock value” and lacks respect for the complexity of sexuality for human beings.

 

Program Design:

  • MKP has chosen to develop and implement one program and all who participate and volunteer feel some piece of ownership.
  • VOH has chosen to develop several programs, but specific leader teams have been responsible for program development.
  • Therefore, these VOH leader teams feel tremendous ownership issues and competition with other leaders, ultimately damaging the quality of programming and destroying personal relationships between leaders and volunteers.
  • Rather than look for a more collaboration, the development process since its beginning, has been dominated by the founders.
  • MKP has several levels of program oversight and has regular meetings to evaluate and review program ideas.
  • VOH has followed the ideas and wishes of the two founders (one of whom is now deceased).

As a result, the failure of VOH programs to develop a widespread following can be viewed partially as a result of the myopic vision of the founders and the naïve and foolish pattern of men who have blindly followed them. The marketing strategies have not worked.

Marketing Strategies:

  • MKP has used person-to-person recruitment and high-tech internet website approach to marketing for weekend programming.
  • VOH has failed at the person-to-person recruitment strategy and their website is a more static, web advertisement with very little energy.
  • VOH website also has contradictory data regarding the number of men served, saying in one place 5,000 and in another 4,000 leading the careful reader to be curious about the origin of the difference.
  • MKP websites show pictures of actual men who have participated and tell their stories in a straightforward way.
  • VOH has “stock” pictures of men, including African-American men, who are not common participants of programming.
  • MKP uses additional, low cost or free social and educational programs to expand their marketing efforts while offering valuable training to participants in leadership, cultural diversity, relationship development and other important topics.
  • VOH has a few alternative social and educational programs, but do not address topics such as conflict resolution or cultural diversity.
  • MKP internet marketing highlights program and program accomplishments.
  • VOH internet marketing efforts highlight the ideas and influence of the two founders, presenting the notion the other leaders and participants are more followers of two men, rather than the instigators of new ideas and creative energy.
  • VOH has made several inappropriate efforts in the marketing area, most specifically, hiring a participant of one of the programs to “write a play” about men’s work. Leaders, such as myself, were asked by the founders to pay $150 to cover the payment to this writer to complete the play.
  • It was a terrible idea. I asked if anyone else was asked to pay money, as I was told we leaders would “own” the play and there was the potential of the play to earn money for the organization.
  • I still do not know the outcome of the play, whether it was completed or not. I asked for a refund of my $150 and my request was ignored. However, I may still request a refund and a formal report of where the play can be found.
  • VOH also created and showed a terrible video parody of the two VOH founders as the gay, but married to women characters from the movie, Brokeback Mountain. It was an offensive, homophobic movie to some of us in the audience, leaving us aghast that someone would have the audacity to allow this to be shown at a fundraising dinner. This was just one more graphic example of the underlying theme of confusing and often offensive sexual innuendo pervasive in the organization.
  • The idea of “roasting the leaders” came as a result of my expressed concerns after the previous fundraiser that the founders were receiving too much attention. It wasn’t that they didn’t deserve it. These guys were brilliant, charismatic, funny, had all the qualities needed to be the founders of something really big, like what the dream of Victories was. However, I felt the constant awards and acknowldgements of them, while not acknowledging others enough was causing a problem. I spoke to Buddy in person, Bob Mark by phone and several board members. There was a decision to “roast the leaders” at the next fundraiser. I’m not sure how this decision was made, but the implementation was flawed. There was no roast of the leaders. What was shown was this homophobic video ridiculing the Brokeback mountain characters who were gay men forced by culture to live a fraudulent life in heterosexual marriages. My daughter looked at me later and asked, “are they going to roast you too?” I said, “I guess not.” To myself, I just shook my head in a disbelief I had become familiar with.

Secrecy:

  • MKP encourages participants to keep the activities of their weekend secret. However, for anyone interested, their website offers clear descriptions and rationales for all the program activities, including the use of nudity.
  • VOH has an inconsistant approach to secrecy. Their website offers some details of program activities, but the shadow weekend, at least in it’s website description, maintains a strict policy of keeping activities secret.

Recruitment of Psychotherapy Clients:

  • MKP encourages participants to attend programs where their therapist will not be present.
  • VOH leaders/therapists recruit intensely from their own psychotherapy practice and often encourage their own clients to attend programs where they (the therapist) will be the leader. This dual-relationship changes and, in some cases, damages the therapist-client relationship and creates a weird-vibe during the weekend when several participants discover they have the same therapist.
  • Ironically, as fewer VOH leaders are also therapists, the program will likely benefit from having fewer ethical violations and cross-overs due to exploitation of the therapist-client relationship.

Leadership Models:

  • MKP has one leader and three co-leaders at every weekend
  • MKP leadership is more a training of trainers model where volunteer staff are trained and encouraged to step up into leadership
  • MKP has weekends somewhere in the world every weekend, so there are many opportunities for staff volunteers to work and learn new skills at weekends
  • VOH has a confusing two man leadership team for every weekend based on the intense relationship of the two founders, although they may be experimenting with this dyadic model
  • VOH leader teams are selected, mainly from the private practice of the two founders, so confusing dual relationships between leaders and the founders create a state of ambiguity and risk of exploitation
  • VOH leader team language create a sense of sexual ambiguity, with leader team formation sometimes referred to as a “marriage”, and where the use of the term “homoerotic” was used just a little too often for comfort and leaving more questions than clarity

VOH’s state of ambiguous dual relationships has led to exploitation and risk of exploitation of other leaders and volunteers who compete for approval of one or both of the founders or senior leader teams.

In a graphic example of intellectual minimalism,  limited ethical thinking and flawed conflict resolution knowledge, VOH has mostly ignored conflict.

One final difference to mention…VOH programming has been influenced greatly by MKP. For example, Kurt and I participated in “guts” training sponsored by MKP folks. I had attended other “guts” trainings as well. Our MKP training greatly influenced our facilitation work together and helped form the foundation for the steps, language and types of psychodrama which formed the core part of the Victories psychodrama training.

I am not aware of any way MKP has been influenced by VOH.

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