If boys behave badly, it is generally regarded as naughtiness, rather than understood as a cry for help from a wounded and confused child. The very people who should be hearing the cry and responding are themselves wounded and suffering; their own needs to be heard and helped when they were young were not met, and being there when needed does not come naturally.

Chris MacLachlan asks: if we are able to hear the cry, how do we respond?

Recently on a week-long camp with Class 6 children, 600-odd kilometres out west on an old sheep station with miles of salt bush and kangaroos in all directions, I was presented with a gift. Eleven of the boys were behaving abominably.

Three fathers and a mother had gone on the camp as support for the male teacher, along with the fifteen girls and eleven boys. By the third night we had decided that we must do something. It had to be something creative. It had to be intuitive. It had to come from the heart. So, as simple as it seemed at the time, we agreed what to do. I went off into the bush and found a suitable place. For the next hour or so I dragged wood out of the surrounding bush and built a campfire, circling it with logs to sit on. That night, after dinner and wash-up the four adult men and eleven boys headed into the pitch black night (only the leader and rearguard with torches), and threaded their way through the tangle of forest to what was to become, by the very nature of the work done there that night, the sacred campfire space. Sitting around the fire for nearly four hours was an epic in itself. A lot of these boys normally show very short attention spans unless something captures their imagination. Their imaginations were on fire out there in the bush that night.

First we took care to establish a physical and emotional space that was open and honest, safe and private, nurturing and challenging. We used a "talking stick" as used by native Americans. Only the person holding the stick can talk, which teaches the skill of being able to listen to whoever has the stick and be there for them without interrupting. As we went deeper into the night and touched on deeper spaces within ourselves we were embraced by an energy (something that I conceptualise as spirituality) that seemed to reach back forever into time. Maybe a time when men had it clearly in their collective consciousness how to help young men into manhood. In today's society we donít. However, if we stop and listen, and care, we can be moved to action. Then itís a matter of following intuition and recreating something suitable for 1995.

We left the campfire in the early morning hours and went to bed a different bunch of boys and men. When we arrived back in the Blue Mountains two days later, still charged from our campfire ritual, we all agreed that we should follow up what we had done in some way very soon. Having been involved in a men's group for the past year-and-a-half I got on the phone to several of my fellow travellers, some of whom also had kids at the school. They were very interested in what had transpired and equally as excited to hear of the positive changes that were beginning to manifest in the boys' attitudes.

In the following months we formed a group of ten men who met to discuss the work. We brainstormed, we shared ideas and feelings and misgivings. Six of us are working together now; on our own process as well as with the boys. Each month we have an overnight camp with a campfire council as well as other activities.

For the last term of this year, the year 6 boys have been invited to spend Friday afternoons with us, playing games and talking.

Planning is well under way for a weekend; a journey to a known Aboriginal male initiation site. We envisage this as a rite of passage toward the end of the year, as the boys leave primary school and approach high school and a more man-ly way of being. From the group of ten, one man is actively working on establishing a similar group in Class 7 and another in Class 5. The teachers, it appears unanimously, support what is happening and have expressed gratitude and support for the work being done. Likewise, the feedback from the parents of the boys, a large proportion of whom are single mothers, has been very positive. A few women have also come together to work in a similar, although intrinsically female way, with the girls in the class. Communication with the women on what we are all doing has in itself become an integral part of the process. We are attempting to build something which at times defies definition; it just requires us to be where we have to be, as present as possible.

However, intuition alone will not be enough. Thereís love, responsibility, humour, courage, experience, wisdom, honesty and more. All these fine qualities, that we would like to model for the young people that we should care so intensely about, we may possess in varying imperfect degrees. So, here we are back at our own woundedness, and this is the place for us to start. The more healed, the more individuated we can become, the more prepared we are to do the work that is necessary.

So that we can be really effective in helping our boys, we are working on our own personal development at the same time. Where to go and what to do to achieve this noble aim? This is up to the individual and the intensity of his vocation. That is: how loud does he hear the cry? Menís groups, meditation, therapy and simply a commitment and effort to more conscious living are all excellent places to begin. Where they can lead is on an amazing journey into real, caring community and a deep sense of fulfilment.

So, if you are drawn to this process then there is work to be done. Everywhere! There is a huge amount of suffering in our communities and we can make a difference. First with ourselves and then wherever we choose to listen. If itís helping young men, your local school is an excellent place to consider.

Otherwise, just open your heart and listen.

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