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Man for man: how we can do more to help ourselves

By Nicholas Goodwin - posted Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Men have it all – that's the message that we're told from birth. And the evidence supports it. But it's not just power and money. Australian men have more heart attacks (63%) and more cancer (1.4 times). 90% of Australians living with HIV/AIDS are men. We are more likely to work in dangerous jobs (95%), be in jail(92%), be murdered (64%) and assaulted (57%). Our Prime Minister sends overseas mostly men (86%) to kill mostly other men – at least 85% of deaths in Syria.

The male suicide rate is 3 to 4 times higher, yet we're less than half as likely to report our mental illness. Each year 3,300 men die of prostate cancer and some 20,000 new cases are diagnosed. Men are more than twice as likely to be alcoholics. A male TV host wears the same suit on air every day for a year to highlight sexism, yet we fail to notice more men are homeless (56%), wearing the same clothes for years. And that's before we step outside our beautiful, rich country. Globally, boys are now significantly behind girls in primary school attendance.

Looking at the men in my own life, it doesn't take long to find these problems close by. My father and I often struggle to find healthy ways to help my younger brother, who lives with schizophrenia. A friend manages the financial affairs of his brother, who suffers from another type of mental illness, and resents being dependent on my friend. I worry about a friend who drinks too much and suffers from depression. A friend overseas has a daughter with significant developmental challenges and worries about how she'll cope in the world.


At the same time, the men in my life are forces for good. My father helped give me the healthiest, most supportive upbringing a son could hope for. My brother is a highly sensitive, caring and loyal man. A friend has the brilliant ability to engage people all over the world in wildlife conservation efforts, another has astonishing insight into how technology is changing people's lives. One overseas is a great father and corporate leader in one of the toughest industries out there. A gifted actor friend works with children with special needs. A deeply involved father of three daughters is revolutionising how poor people access financial services. They are all good men and they all need help to stay that way.

The good news is we are starting to understand what works for men. The long-running Harvard Grant study director, George Vaillant, said in Triumphs of Experience, "It was the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing in all aspects of these men's lives." David Brooks commented that men need "Persistence, discipline, order and dependability. The men who could be affectionate about people and organized about things had very enjoyable lives." Brooks highlights a major finding from the Harvard Grant study that you can teach an old dog new tricks. The men kept changing throughout their lives, well into their 80s and 90s.

So this is a call to action for men to do more for men. Men need to start with themselves, before they try to fix their relationships with women or their families. And to do this we need to stop thinking of ourselves just as perpetrators, as the problem, and start seeing ourselves as the solution. As an example, when I asked friends and colleagues what percentage of men they thought were the perpetrators of child abuse, the answers were in the 80-90% range. New data from the United States shows only 45% of child abuse perpetrators were men. Yet when we see men as the solution, good things happen. The World Bank reports that better educated men are "more likely to put more time into domestic roles and care giving."

For men to take the problems they cause seriously, we must take the problems they experience seriously. How can we expect men to play positive and constructive roles in the world when their own lives are not mentally and physically healthy? We need resources and institutions, e.g. a U.N. agency for men, to support men and help them play positive roles in the world. And on International Men's Day, I urge every man to contact each important man in their lives, thank him, and ask him how he feels. When men work together to solve our problems, we are healthier and happier for it. Man for man. That benefits everyone.

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About the Author

Nick specialises in social and behaviour change, communications, marketing and international development. He is a lecturer and PhD candidate in the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney. His PhD research focuses on the role of change agents in behaviour change programs. He is also Director and Founder of Tulodo, the social and behaviour change agency. Nick has over 15 years of experience working with government, business, university, NGO and U.N. organisations throughout the Asia Pacific and Australia, as well as in Africa and the Americas. Nick's qualifications include an MBA (Deakin) and a Bachelor of Asian Studies (ANU) and he studied at Indonesia's Universitas Gadjah Mada.

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