Starting The Conversation – International Men’s Day

English: Symbol of the International Men's Day...
Symbol of the International Men’s Day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

November 19 is International Men’s Day. The aim of which is to highlight mens social and health issues, focusing on improving gender issues and gender equality and highlighting positive male role models. It is a time for men to celebrate themselves and their achievements.

One of the most well-known events surrounding International Men’s day is Movember – where men grow a moustache for the month of November – designed to highlight and bring awareness to mens health issues and in particular prostate cancer.

Yesterday a group of men held and presented an International Men’s Day Conference in Brisbane hosted by Real Media Real Change. The focus of the day was “Starting The Conversation” on men’s health and men’s issues, with presenters from the medical field, universities, education and from all walks of life. Sharing one common goal to bring awareness to the current situation of mens health, depression, suicide rates and to ask men to begin to open up and start asking why the current state of affairs is why it is.

Well I think it would be fair to say that the Conversation is well and truly started. The presenters and the audience were able to honestly share their stories, messages and questions that opened up a dialogue on how it is for  men to be raised in a society that asks them to be tough, strong and hard where if a boy is anything other than this he is consider weak, a cissy, gay or called a girl. This crushes the sensitive and naturally tender boy and tells him to stop being who he is. And those who don’t turn away from themselves and their natural loveliness get beaten up, teased and hounded everyday at school. Society asks boys/men to compete and rewards them for their achievements. This creates friction, competition, anxiety and an inability to really express and freely deal with and open up to how they are feeling. How crushing to not be loved for who you are but what you can do, how tough you are, how good at sport or academic you can be. Is it any wonder so many men turn to alcohol, drugs or sex to deal with and medicate their lives.

Thankfully the conversation is started, as the presenters shared with the utmost honesty and unreservedness how it is for men. The statistics are showing us that depression will soon be our number one illness and our next generation’s life expectancy will be shorter than ours and young men are suiciding every day – yet it is hardly ever reported in the media – and our boys are being educated in a system that rewards them on what they ‘do’ without seeing them for who they are.

This would all be well and good if this way of raising boys was working but the statistics and the aggression or despair in men is showing that it definitely is not.

Statistics tell us that in Australia alone:

  • Suicide is the HIGHEST CAUSE of death for young men (2008).
  • Suicide accounts for 1 in 5 deaths in men aged between 25 and 44 (2008).
  • Men are twice as likely as women to have substance abuse problems.
  • 1 in 2 Australian men will have cancer by the time they are 85.
  • At any one time, 1 in 8 men are experiencing clinical depression.
  • Over half of all Australian men have experienced some sort of mental health condition during their lifetime.
  • 16% of all men NEVER visit the doctor.
  • 1 in 2 men overweight, and 1 in 4 men are obese.
  • Nearly 1 in 3 men who are obese do not recognise that they have a health problem.
  • 1 in 3 men over the age of 40 will have a reproductive health problem.
  • 1 in 2 men have reported to be a victim of violence at least once in their lifetime.
  • 1 in 3 men at any one time are living with live a chronic health condition.
  • MORE MEN DIE EACH YEAR FROM PROSTATE CANCER, THAN WOMEN DO FROM BREAST CANCER.

Is it possible to START THE CONVERSATION? The conversation about what’s really going on?

The answer is most adamantly yes.

The incredible men that spoke and presented at the RMRC conference showed as living examples that despite growing up in a society that asked them to be hard and tough that they could and have turned their lives around by connecting to the real man inside that they are. With, and displaying, a  level honesty, sensitivity and tenderness not often witnessed beyond a man holding his baby, these men were willing to come out from behind their brick wall and open up to the loveliness they are and is inside feels true and natural and share that with the audience and in their lives.

It was clear to see that many were deeply touched by what was presented and were ready themselves to start chipping away at their hardened exterior and begin the conversation and start to be open to how they feel and communicating what is happening for them in their lives.

So do we let our men and boys continue on this perpetual merry-go-round and become yet another health statistic or do we start talking, communicating and allow men to open up to their loved ones, partner, family and friends, the doctor about what it is be to be a man and how this affects who they are.

When we are open to discussing our issues without fear of judgement or rejection this can be freeing and healing. Often when dealing with our issues we get to see they are not as consuming and as all dominating as we think they are.

It is time to “Start the Conversation”, to make changes in our own lives, to be responsible for our health and how we raise our boys and how we can parent ourselves to be the role models that say its ok to be tender, sensitive, loving and gentle as after all that is who we are all naturally are.

The time has come for everyone to start the conversation and support our fathers, brothers, male friends and colleagues and all of humanity to open up from behind their defences and just be who they are.

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Making House Calls

Today I went to visit a friend at her house for the first time. So what? No big deal. Not exactly headline making news I know but it for me it was a whole new experience.

In the past going to someone’s house filled me with anxiety, made me nervous and left me feeling awkward and on edge. And even though they had invited me to make myself at home, I felt like I was intruding into their privacy and could never quite relax and be at ease.

The visit would be so superficial with them trying too hard to be the perfect host and to make witty, engaging conversation and then me doing the same in return so as to be the polite guest. Then there were those dreaded and uncomfortable silences that needed to be filled with something, anything! Just keep talking, for God’s sake think of something to say! Thankfully there was the CD collection, a random book or a framed picture or photograph that would come to the rescue and save the day. Phew! Painful gap in conversation and awkward moment averted.

Funny how we find silence or a break in a conversation so desperately difficult to deal with.
Why is that?

Anyway, back to my visit today…..

What was so different that I wanted to share it with you?
Well, I was greeted by a warm smile and an open heart. Hugged gently, told I was gorgeous and connected to by a friend, who in all honesty up until today I actually didn’t know that well. Not only was I welcomed into her home but into her life and her family. But it went deeper than that she also opened herself up to me and let me in with no barriers allowing me to see and feel all of who she is. I could feel that she is just like me and in return was able to do the same and let the real me out. In that moment we connected deeply and it didn’t matter if there was nothing to say as actually nothing needed to be said.

How refreshing to be with someone and them not need you to be or act in a certain way. How refreshing to be with someone and not feel like you have to entertain them.
How refreshing to be with someone and simply know that you are equal and in that feel totally at home in your own skin.

In that brief 3 hour visit I learnt more about my new friend than I have about people I have known for more than 20 years. The need for small talk dissolved and we were able to go to a level of honesty that takes most friendships many years to reach.

This just goes to show that when we open our hearts to each other and let go the superficial front we put on, magic truly happens.