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A Good Cause: The Good Men Project

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About Lisa Hickey

Lisa Hickey is the CEO of Good Men Media, Inc, a multi-platform, multi-media company that has sparked a national discussion around the question of “What does it mean to be a good man?” Good Men Media publishes The Good Men Project magazine, which has received mainstream media accolades for heralding “a new era of men’s magazines.” Lisa is a former advertising creative director, copywriter and art director whose commercial credits include both a Superbowl commercial and campaign for Lotus Software that was exhibited at MOMA. Lisa held top positions at a slew of ad agencies in the Boston area before starting her own ad agency, Velocity, Inc. in 1999. Over the years, she authored three books, published dozens of poems, and had four children. In late 2008, Lisa left advertising to jump headfirst into social media and never looked back. Her first initiative was to help get the country of Iceland into social media. Her second was helping to start The Good Men Project.




The Smoking Poet: Hello, Lisa, and welcome to the pages of The Smoking Poet—A Good Cause. We believe supporting the concept of good people, in this case, good men, is what we are all about on this page. Good is good, and it deserves a spotlight. Certainly we feel it is a topic that deserves discussion. So, tell us about The Good Men Project—the birth of an idea, the foundation, the magazine, the DVD, the blog, the movement …

Lisa Hickey: The Good Men Project is sparking an international discussion around the question “What does it mean to be a good man?” And we’re doing that through every type of media imaginable. In the process, we help people figure out what it means to be good, and what it means to be a man. We are the catalyst to allow discussion to happen on a very large scale.

TSP: And what exactly is your role in this, Lisa? How did you become involved?

Lisa:  Tom Matlack was a former VC who was publishing an anthology of 31 stories by men, first person essays about a defining moment in their lives. Tom had found that when he talked to men about their stories, three things happened: 1) it changed the storyteller, and it changed the listener/reader 2) as men confronted these defining moments in their lives, it got them thinking about the question of what it meant to be “good” – a good father, or son, or husband or worker. 3) Tom realized that what was being told in these very intimate, personal stories was “the stuff men don’t usually talk about.” Or at the very least, it wasn’t anything that the media would have us believe that guys talked about.

I was brought in for a very simple charge: To build a social media platform that could help sell the book. Along the way, we build engaged people—first dozens, then hundreds, thousands, and now over a million people a month. Mostly men, but some women as well, who want to help figure this out. The original vision worked because it was a great idea, and people we met along the way helped spread that idea.


TSP: Okay, so let’s talk about how The Good Men Project Magazine differs from other men’s magazines. What are you seeking for your pages and what lands in the editor’s trash bin?

Lisa: We stay true to that original vision. Stories by men or about men. Content that goes deep to get at personal insights. Content that inspires change that breaks down stereotypes.  Talking about things that don’t usually get talked about. But we don’t want to be “earnest” or even worse, boring, in our quest to be good. We want to be thought provoking and funny and intelligent and insightful and give people a glimpse of how manhood is evolving.

TSP: Your magazine states online that you “talk about sex without selling sex.” Explain? Because we all know when you hear “men’s magazine,” a certain image comes to mind and it’s got lots of skin with little to no need for personality. And a chasm begins to open between the genders when that happens. No one wants to be, or should be, objectified.

Lisa: We certainly admit that sex is wonderful, worthy of celebration and discussion. And, in fact, we talk about it a lot. But we also understand that sex occurs in context with whole lot of other stuff – relationships, parenting, moral and ethical questions around sex, violence, communication, marriage and infidelity, societal norms, health, homosexuality, sex as a commodity, pornography, what we teach our children. About the only thing we don’t do is say “hey, here’s a hot girl, wouldn’t it be great to f*&% her?”

TSP: Working in all these venues, print, online, film, broadcast, what have you found in terms of good men out there? Anything surprising? Are good men hard to find? And what defines a good man? Is there one basic definition that fits all roles—individual, son, father, husband, worker, soldier, and so on?

Lisa: The most surprising thing is how easy it is to find good men – without much effort at all. That men do want to talk about this stuff. And that there are plenty of thoughtful, intelligent men who are out there taking actions every day that make their world and our world a better place. Men who are willing to talk and share their stories in a way that is truly helpful to others.

What defines a good man is something we struggle with every day. The thing we think we do best is let other people define goodness through example. We did put together a list of traits around “goodness”, but really, they are meant to be thought starters and our own lens to look at the world: Integrity, Intellectual Honesty, Compassion, Tolerance/Respect/Understanding for people who are different / hold different values, Candor / Honest Communication, Vision, Action, Responsibility, Redemption


TSP: While traditionally females are raised to be good, to be nice, to be polite … males tend to be raised differently. Be tough, don’t cry, never give in, gather notches in your belt … The values and ethics instilled from birth on can sometimes be so subtle, that we don’t realize we are teaching them. What are the challenges to boys and men today, do you think? Why is there a need to raise awareness just about what it means to be a good man?

Lisa: What we’ve found in our outreach to boys – those on the cusp of becoming men – is that they really want to talk about all this same stuff but often aren’t given the opportunity. They don’t know who to talk to or how to start the discussion. That’s why we’re starting it. 

We’re not out to change men. And we’re most certainly not out to make them more like women. We want to simply open up the discussion so that people can figure out for themselves if their behavior is true to what they believe in. 

TSP: Good is good, but bad sells. That’s what we hear, at least, or it that just something else we are being sold? What kind of reception have you had for the magazine? Are men interested in being good? Are women interested in the good guy? Does that bad boy image really seduce as much as we seem to think it does, or is that just adolescent tripe? Deep down, women long for the man who is tender and kind and knows how to run a vacuum, and deep down, men wish we’d let them cry now and then without losing their dignity … ?

Lisa: The thing that we’ve found is that you can’t talk about the good without talking about the bad, and that’s what makes “goodness” so interesting. So we can’t talk about loving relationships without also talking about pornography. We can’t talk about being a good parent without also talking about the times we screw up. We talk about how you can be a good person when you’re behind bars in a jail cell.

Good does not equal boring. Good can be an action word. Good can be about strength. Good is what you bring to the table, in all its glory.

TSP: Can you give us a few examples of your most read stories?

Lisa: One of the most read stories was about a guy who, “on the worst day of his life”, had to make the difficult decision with his wife to abort a pregnancy when they learned the fetus was deformed and had 0% chance of viability. Aaron Gouveia brought his wife into an abortion clinic and then went back out and confronted them when they called his wife a murderer.  The others range the gamut – we highlighted 10 of the top “Good” Politicians, a story about a boy who goes through precocious puberty, how Facebook memorials are being used to honor those who die, a story of a balding tattooed father who blow-dries his son’s hair.

TSP: Some of your articles still toe lines that make many of us twitch, for example, defending the right to publish a book about pedophilia, or an article by a woman who is into sadomasochism. Tell us about your publisher’s decision on why you feel articles like these belong in The Good Men Project Magazine. Do you encourage opposing viewpoints?

Lisa: Our point of view is that we’ll never get to any real change towards good in our society if we don’t talk about the stuff that’s hard to talk about. How would you ever hope to eradicate pedophilia if you can’t even talk about it? Putting blinders on to the darker side of life doesn’t make it go away.

TSP: And we can’t help but be curious … why is a woman publishing a magazine about good men? How does that go over with your readership? Do men need women to tell them how to be good?

Lisa: Oh, for goshsakes. Of course men don’t need women to tell them how to be good. I don’t tell men much of how to do anything. All I do is figure out the business model, look for the next big opportunities in content creation, publishing, distribution and social networks. And I talk. A lot. About all this stuff that I think is vitally important in this world.

I came into this because I had a flash of blinding insight: Oh. Men have problems too. And what better business model than to get a group of people together with shared values and problems, and help them solve those problems.

TSP: The foundation helps men and boys at risk. More accurately, you help organizations that help men and boys at risk. What do you mean by at risk? Tell us about some of the organizations you help fund and what kinds of things they do.

Lisa: At risk boys are those growing up without great role models – homes without fathers, or in poverty, or in poorly funded educational environments, or boys who have already gotten caught up in the criminal justice system. Right now, we help local chapters of national organizations like Big Brothers Big Sister of Massachusetts Bay, and The Girls and Boys Club of Boston. Street Potential gets boys in the juvenile justice system to participate in music and art to gain self-confidence and accomplishment. Dorchester Youth Alternative Academy helps truant youths aged 12 to 16 with education, community services and counseling.

TSP: You are currently inviting nominations for The Top Ten Good Men of the Year. What kind of nominations are you inviting—and where can one submit them?

Lisa: The top criteria are men who have taken action to make the world a better place. That can be on a small scale or very large scale – and it includes men doing stuff with non-profits, big business, sports, arts, medicine, and technology.

Submit here.

TSP: You also have a book out, called The Good Men Project: Real Stories From the Front Lines of Modern Manhood, edited by James Houghton, Larry Bean and Tom Matlock (see our review below). What was the process of creating this collection of stories by men? How did the winning essays get chosen—what were the criteria?

Lisa: The book was the idea of Tom Matlack and James Houghton. Tom tells the story in this video of how he set about finding the original authors for the anthology. Many of those authors now contribute to the magazine or help us in other ways as we grow The Good Men Project.

TSP: One story in particular moved us, called “Blood-Spattered,” by Julio Medina. When we looked him up online, we found a Web site that told us all about the organization called Exodus Transitional Community that Medina had developed in response to his own efforts to turn his life around after being a convicted felon. If society doesn’t always reward men for their attempts to do the right thing, how much less do we extend a helping hand to men who committed crimes but are now reformed? “Be tough on crime” makes for a better sound bite and works for politicians, but in reality, men released from prison have almost zero chance of succeeding in the real world. They can’t get jobs, they often have no home or family awaiting them on the other side, and many can’t even get drivers licenses or scholarships to continue their education. We make it impossible for them to do the right thing—to be good. In the long run, we all pay for that.

Today, Medina is helping others who are rehabilitated in prison and sincerely want to live good lives upon release. Is your foundation involved with Exodus? That is, do proceeds from book sales go to this organization? Any thoughts to share on this effort?

Lisa: We love Julio. We try to help support his efforts every chance we get. Often it’s by doing what we do best – telling the story. We’ve written about his organization in the magazine, shown a film that was created about a partner, invited Julio to speak with Tom and others at events. Tom started the book tour at Sing Sing prison where Julio still teaches. You can watch the video where Tom talks about his experience here. Once I even drove down to Harlem and to give the staff at Exodus a training program on social media. These are people who are willing to work incredibly hard because they know just what they have to lose. And yes, the goal is to help them more through sales of the book and donating a percentage of profits back to those types of organizations.

TSP: What do you see as the challenges of being a good father today? How has that role changed—and how do we want it to change? So many of the essays in this book are written by men who had less than good relationships with their own fathers. Learning about how to become a good man surely involves having a good role model in a father, after all.

Lisa: One of the biggest challenges to men today is that 75 percent of people laid off in the last recession were men – and yet men are still seen in the role of “provider” for their family. And yes, men’s relationship with their fathers is extraordinarily complex. Our Father’s day issue was very well read. One of the articles asked men to “describe your father in two words.” It was not your typical Hallmark Father’s Day sentiments.

On the extremely positive side -- we’ve created a section of the magazine called DadsGood, which is a community of “Daddy Bloggers” talking about their experiences. The articles in that section blend insight and humor in a way that is a wonderful role model for dad’s everywhere.

TSP: Does American society still have double standards for men and women?  Another interesting essay in the book was written by a single father and his challenges of being accepted by mothers in their circles.

Lisa: One of the most interesting things – for me personally – about being a part of The Good Men Project is that by acknowledging the differences between men and women I can better see all the common ground. And one of the things that we set out to do right from the start is change this perception of men in the media – that men are bumbling idiots or couch potatoes or villains or – at best – an idealized superman they can’t possibly live up to.

So it’s ALL those stories that we hope will ultimately get rid of any double standards. Stories that cross genders and age and race and politics and income and intelligence. Stories that offer shared insights into the common human experience. We focus on men, because there’s a need for men’s stories to be told, in the voice of men, from a point of truth about what their experience is. 

TSP: We can’t resist pointing out that recently you featured one of our previously featured non-fiction authors, and a friend, Jothy Rosenberg (see TSP, Spring 2010). It was an article titled Man of the Day: Jothy Rosenberg. Jothy is originally from Michigan, and when he was still a teenager, he was diagnosed with cancer, resulting in the amputation of one leg. Later, the cancer reappeared, and he lost most of one lung. Today, Jothy is the author of three books, including his memoir Who Says I Can’t, has founded seven high-tech companies, has ridden in the Massachusetts Challenge Bike-a-Thon seven times, and he swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco 17 times to raise funds for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Healthcare for the Homeless. He is a husband and a father. A good man, indeed.

How do you choose your good men of the day? Sounds like you have to be quite a hero …

Lisa: With the good men of the day, we simply try to highlight men that we come across who are doing something good and something extraordinary. I heard of Jothy through one of the investors in our company, and his story struck me immediately. It would be difficult to argue that he is anything but good.

TSP: What lies ahead, Lisa? What are your dreams and goals for The Good Men Project?

Lisa: What’s been great so far is how we’ve been able to scale and yet stay true to our core mission. We have touched a million people with this idea, quite literally. And it wasn’t that long ago that it was five people sitting in a room trying to figure out how to make that happen.

The goal is to continue the conversation we started, to become highly profitable, and in doing so be able to give back to the community that supports us every chance we get. To show the world that good is cool and good is hip and good is interesting. To let men be men, but give them a place to talk about the issues that define them.

TSP: Thank you so much for your time, Lisa, and for all that you and your people at The Good Men Project due in the name of goodness!

Read the book review of The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood at Zinta Reviews.

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