Do men want isolation? At least one does…

Do men want isolation? At least one does… June 4, 2015

lonely man Deep in the Amazon jungle lives an isolated man, the lone survivor of a remote tribe. He subsists on wild hogs, spider monkeys, and various plants. Nobody knows the name of his tribe or what language he speaks. What Brazilian officials do know, however, is that he is completely alone. He is the last of his people, and for the past fifteen years, at least, he has been considered by most to be the most isolated man in the world. After about ten years of failed attempts, Brazil’s government field agents made contact with the man people call, “The Last of His Tribe,” but the encounter didn’t go so well. Slate magazine reports,

“Eventually, the agents found the man. He was unclothed, appeared to be in his mid-30s (he’s now in his late 40s, give or take a few years), and always armed with a bow-and-arrow. Their encounters fell into a well-worn pattern: tense standoffs, ending in frustration or tragedy. On one occasion, the Indian delivered a clear message to one agent who pushed the attempts at contact too far: an arrow to the chest.”

The Brazilian government has concluded that the man actually wants to be alone, and so Brazil has decided to respect his wishes. The country has declared a 31-acre tract of land surrounding his living area off limits to any outsiders, including developers or explorers. The Last of His Tribe is now free to live the isolation he values. Can you imagine living on your own, anxious about other people getting too close, and feeling invisible to the rest of the world?

Sadly, I’ve found that many men not only find this easy to imagine, they are living out a variation of this story. Although surrounded by millions of people, it seems like we men in America place a high value on isolation. You can see this value designed into the very architecture of our homes. We are a back porch society today. We haven’t always been a back porch society; houses used to be built with large front porches, landing spaces that announced to our neighbors that we wanted them to walk up the steps and spend time with us. But, at some point in our nation’s history, we moved our porches to the back of our houses, built tall fences, and through these structural changes, communicated to our neighbors that what we most value is autonomy, privacy, and isolation.

The problem with this desire to find autonomy, privacy, and isolation is that when we try hard enough, unfortunately, we find it. And then, at some point, many of us find that it doesn’t work—life is just too hard to tackle alone. A few years ago, I spoke at a men’s retreat. One of the sessions dealt with loss, pain, and suffering. After the talk, a man in his thirties approached me and told me of how his young son lost his fight against cancer a few years prior. As he was telling me the story, his face displayed a raw sense of pain and shock. It was obvious that his grief was still fresh, almost unprocessed. I asked him if he had any close friends who had walked with him through his pain. He almost had a look of panic on his face, as he replied, “No…not a single one. I’ve got friends that I hunt and fish and work with, but I don’t have any close friends. I’ve felt so alone these past few years.”

This man’s honest response so moved me that, during the next session of the retreat, I asked the entire group of men to close their eyes—I didn’t want anyone worrying about who would see them respond—and then I asked the men to raise their hands if they have at least one close friend, someone who will process grief with them, or pray with them when things get rough. About fifteen guys raised their hands. The other forty-five didn’t move an inch. That moment opened my eyes to the reality that we men are living far too much of our lives on our back porches.

90-Day Challenge: About two hundred sportsmen across the country built a large front porch last fall, and then spent three months on it together. This wasn’t a literal front porch; it was a community. I walked away from that men’s retreat a few years ago with the desire to help sportsmen connect on a deeper level with their hunting and fishing buddies. My hope was “to help turn buddies into brothers,” and so, with the help of Baker Books, I published a devotional (In Pursuit: Devotions for the Hunter and Fisherman) that men could read together with their deer hunting buddies, men’s groups, or families. Once the book came out, I asked five outdoor writers, men that I personally respect, to help me host an online community where guys could read the book, interact with the Bible, and talk about the important things in life together. These starter posts invited the other two hundred men to join the discussion. In addition to these conversation starters, the other 210 members of the group were also free to post comments, questions, and prayer requests.two hunters and dog This 90-Day Challenge community became a front porch. It was safe. It was welcoming. It was non-competitive. It was almost overwhelming at times to see how quickly guys would stop what they were doing to pray for one another. The dialog was refreshingly honest—a few times during those three months men admitted their doubts about faith, or church, or relationships. As I said, it was a safe community. And we’re doing it again this summer/fall. (Click here to learn more.)

Not all men want this type of connectedness. “The Last of His Tribe,” didn’t want to leave his isolation. We know this because he always hid from outsiders, often times shooting arrows at those trying to make peaceful contact. We are not sure whether he is afraid of outsiders, or he genuinely enjoys hunting wild boars and spider monkeys on his own. We only know he wants to be isolated. And some men in America seem to share that preference. What’s exciting is that for those of us who don’t, there are quite a few options out there. I speak at a few sportsmen’s events each year, and I usually ask the hosting church what they are doing to help men connect and become strength, courage, and accountability for one another. Most of the time, I hear new answers and new ideas when I ask that question. Men’s groups. Bible studies. Sportsmen’s clubs and wild game feeds. Ministries such as Fathers in the Field, Men of Integrity, and Kids Outdoor Zone. These are all places where sportsmen can connect and build friendships. There is a movement afoot in our country—churches and ministries from California to Maine, and Canada to Florida, are exploring ways to rescue remote, isolated men.

We men just have to want to exit the jungle.

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