Wellbeing News

In December 2018, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel with a group of our Year 12 students and two colleagues to Sri Lanka on the Yaluwo Immersion. This was an incredibly powerful and rewarding experience, one that I can highly recommend to any student considering it.

While staying at Diyagala Boys’ Town, I had the privilege and honour to meet a group of men whose entire lives are devoted to educating young men from a background of poverty, hardship and grief. There were a number of Lasallian Brothers I would like to mention. Brother Loyola, Brother Denzel and Brother Grenville were our primary day-to-day contacts while staying at Diyagala. It is difficult to describe the amount of care, patience and understanding that these Brothers have for the boys. They would probably be embarrassed if they read this piece, but, to me, they were exemplifying what it means to be “a good man”.

These men were firm and kind, they were patient and they led. What struck me the most was how much they knew of each boy’s circumstances. There are about 150 students at Diyagala, over four year levels and Brother Loyola knew each boy individually. He was aware of their history, their difficulties and their strengths. It was, and is, inspiring. Like islands of calm in the lives of the young men in their care, these strong, gentle, caring, loving men are living their mission with a distinct lack of hubris.

The same qualities were also present in the Brothers who were running the school in the slums of Colombo, living the Lasallian credo of “the least, the last, the lost” every day. It was refreshing to observe the form of their masculinity in the face of such profound poverty and hardship. In my view, such masculinity is something to aspire to.

While I was overseas, and in the weeks following Christmas, the controversial Gillette advertisement was released. If you haven’t seen it, it can be viewed here. This ad is, in all likelihood, designed to tag onto the #metoo movement in order to sell products. However, the message it extols is laudable. The YouTube of the ad currently has twice as many downvotes as upvotes. I find this astonishing. As well as encouraging men to act in a slightly less traditional way it also asks that men hold other men accountable for their actions and their examples. This is hard. Even harder when you are a young man who is in the process of becoming yourself, who values the opinion of his peers and is constantly bombarded by images that depict men as “players” and women as objects.

I foolishly tried arguing with the ad’s critics on various social media platforms (don’t do this… it doesn’t work). What I think I discovered while arguing on Facebook, is that there is often a complete misunderstanding of what “toxic masculinity” is referring to. “Toxic” is a description, an adjective. “Toxic masculinity” is a subset of masculinity, it is not all of masculinity.

Toxic Masculinity” is an extreme version of masculinity. The version that says it is not manly to show vulnerability, that real men don’t cry, that to be a man is to be completely self-reliant, that seeking help is a weakness, and that women are inferior. This distorted and reductive masculinity is called “toxic” because it is genuinely unhealthy. Men with such a narrow view of masculinity are at a much greater risk of suicide, relationship breakdown, health problems, early death, depression and more.

The American Psychological Association has recently released guidelines for working with men to challenge toxic masculinity. It has done so in response to the many mental health issues that toxic masculinity gives rise to. An excellent article that explains these guidelines can be found here.

Given this phenomenon, it was interesting to compare it with the young men who lived at the Diyagala Boy’s Town. They have an emotional openness to them that surprised me. I think I was expecting that teenagers with such difficult backgrounds would be closed off and reserved. I found it was the opposite. The young men, ranging in age from 14 years to 20 years were comfortable with each other and with us. They played, they wrestled and competed, but they also comforted, hugged and supported each other. Much like our students do here at De La.

I suppose the purpose of this article is to remind myself of what male strength can be like. It doesn’t need to be defined by sporting prowess, conform to stereotypes or promote building ourselves up by putting others down. It can be a gentle and assured care for others that comes from knowing each other’s story and history. 

It can come from recognizing that at some point in our lives, we all could be one of “the least or the last or the lost”. At times like those, we can call on each other for support — without guilt, without hubris — and, as Lasallians, give and receive it with love.

This is masculine, but this is not toxic.

Mr Anthony Freeman
College Psychologist — Kinnoull Campus

Back to The Duce Issue 2019 01 - 7 February 2019