"We evolved to need and depend on each other. It’s part of our biology."
It was 5:35 am, pitch dark, 6 degrees and cloudless. The road was very wet. Still eight guys were waiting to start the Thursday bike ride.
The whole way we were sprayed by vehicles beside us and the bikes in front. Soaked, dirty and cold we pulled in 45 kms later at our favourite café, ready for a coffee and pastry.
In the middle of the usual post ride banter, someone asked, “What time is the funeral?”
I asked, “Whose funeral?” and was told of the tragedy fallen on a cyclist from another group: his son had recently taken his own life.
“That young guy ticked all the boxes,” someone said. “An ‘A’ student at uni, a beautiful girlfriend and a large social circle. He suffered from anxiety but was under the care of good professionals… Not good enough I guess.”
I was devastated. He was the fourth young man connected to my immediate circle of friends who’d died by his own hand in the past six months.
Apparently eight hundred people attended his funeral. He was truly loved and is truly missed.
By chance, later in the day I listened to an interview with Hugh Mackay, Australia’s most eminent social researcher, talking about the ‘epidemic of anxiety and mental illness in the Western world.’ He says the evidence is overwhelming humans are hard wired to live in community. We evolved to need and depend on each other. It’s part of our biology.
“We only find ourselves in the faces of others,” says Hugh.
Yet these days we don’t live that way, led to believe ideal humans are strong and independent.
The result is a fragmenting society: more marital breakups, one parent families, people living alone, shift work, FIFO work, job changes and house moves. Many of us don’t know our neighbours so don’t rely on or trust them. Our faith in institutions and leaders has diminished. On-line ‘communities’ are a pale imitation of coffee with a real person. We retreat into ever disintegrating nuclear families, or on our own, doing life independently.
How are young men affected? Many don’t experience family or community behind them simply because those people are often not there.
‘Does anyone believe in me?’ they wonder. ‘Does anyone, other than my mum, really care?’
I went through this experience in my late twenties. It makes you anxious and stressed. Your body pumps too much adrenaline and cortisol. You get exhausted and don’t think straight. You have lots of friends but don’t talk to anyone for fear of looking weak (and you know they don’t know anything anyway). You party to dull the anxiety. You react impulsively to events and make poor decisions. You care little about other people.
What is the solution? Hugh Mackay says we must learn compassion, real compassion, which involves reaching out to people and making a sustained effort to know them.
This is so important for young men!
They need interaction with a man who has come alongside in support. Someone with the skills and courage to engage with difficult topics like: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Why am I here?’.
I am calling for all mature men to reach out to a young man in your life and offer what you have: a willingness to believe in him, an ability to listen and ask questions, and your years of experience.
Many of us will find this uncomfortable because we don’t think of ourselves as ‘mentors’. It’s too formal a word, perhaps. Or we’re afraid of being rejected or not knowing what to do or say.
But all this can be overcome. Look at the resources on Men’s Business for guidance. Join a mentor community.
The prize is raising up a magnificent generation of men who will help rebuild our social fabric.
Hugh Mackay – Australia Re-Imagined, Podcast: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/reimagining-australia/10003652
Hugh Mackay – Australia Re-Imagined, Book: https://www.booktopia.com.au/australia-reimagined-hugh-mackay/prod9781743534823.html