Christina Milarvie Quarrell is a Poet Photographer Artist born and raised in the Govanhill Gorbals communities. Her work celebrates the values of people before profit. Art is her passion and she utilises community arts as a basis for the creation and gathering of working class culture, poems, stories and songs.
John Davis is a professor of Childhood Inclusion at the University of Edinburgh he researches and writes on a range of issues including childhood, disability, inclusion, social justice and anti-discrimination with the aim of supporting children and families to be at the centre of resolving their own life issues.
Following on from the recent mental health awareness week, Christina and John examine the term ‘Man Up’. In so doing, they seek to move beyond unhelpful stereotypes about men and understand the complex causes of mental ill-health. In particular, today’s article builds on their August 2016 post that sought to understand the political context of illnesses of despair through the life context of Scotland’s first world champion boxer – Benny Lynch (see article here).
In the context of a June 2017 general Election that has become a contest between the SNP and the oft hated Tory Party, this article specifically sets out to utilise socio-cultural and economic explanations of illnesses of despair to counter ‘macho’ and right wing ideas of masculinity that seek to prevent men from discussing their life problems.
For example, prior to mental health awareness week Piers Morgan sent out a tweet that suggested his fellow men should avoid discussing their feelings, ‘get a grip’ and ‘man up’. The hypocrisy of this tweet did not escape us. That a television presenter who gets paid for enticing celebrity guests to reveal their emotions should tell other men not to show their emotions is not only disappointing, it exhibits the classic double standards we come to expect from the leaching, right-wing, over paid, under-taxed and out of touch parasites that inhabit the London centric UK media.
A quick analysis of this TV presenter’s social media profile indicates that he likes to post pictures of himself taken with older, more powerful men. Indeed, such a trait more than hints of just the sort of inferiority complex and weak ego that might be helped by the very self-expression he appears to be so scared of.
Researchers tell us that hidden and unresolved shame may involve cycles of anger, violence, insensitivity, insecurity, inferiority, revenge and counter-revenge. The TV presenter in question has previous form on social media including: offering insensitive pronouncements on gender issues, deriding women who seek to exercise their right to self-expression by marching to challenge sexism and posting pictures of himself with known right-wing, misogynistic, self-publicising and charlatan politicians (e.g. he currently pictures himself with Donald Trump – see here Robin McAlpine’s recent post here on why we should call out such charlatans, snake oil salesmen and confidence tricksters).
We are confronted by suicide statistics that tell us men (more than women) can’t survive with what life is throwing at them. No one single issue explains mental ill-health but poverty is a major cause and so is ‘man up’ patriarchy. When we work with men of different ages and talk about mental health they tend not to isolate one specific issues in their lives as having an impact. They talk of multiple crisis, feelings of confusion, fatigue, low resilience and of how hard it is to make ‘best life’ decisions.
Death by suicide involves a complex web of economic, social, biological and emotional causes. Yet, patriarchy works across these issues e.g. by sending messages that connect masculinity with physical/emotional strength, economic ‘bread winners’, male ‘stiff -upper-lips’ and the avoidance of open discussion. Stoicism is sold as a virtue, yet a stiff upper lip is dangerous to the health of all individuals.
Patriarchy sets men an impossible role model to live up to. However, what was valuable, was the way that the ‘Man Up’ statement drew immediate social media condemnation. Twitter users’ swiftly reacted to critically pointed out the important connections between men’s mental well-being and emotional self-expression. This recognition of the benefits for men of speaking about their emotions is a welcome change but it needs to be continually championed by men, reinforced and supported until it percolates beyond the chattering classes into all of our communities.
Many of those who responded on twitter highlighted research, reported in March 2017, that demonstrated that suicide is the leading killer of adults between the ages of 35 and 49 and accounts for around 1 in 5 deaths in England and Wales (See this Guardian article here: for commentary and the full report for the Office of National Statistics here). This research directly connected death by suicide with occupations, indicating that the likely hood of such a death was: 44% higher for men working in construction, 35% higher for men working in all skilled trades and 20% higher for men working in culture, media and sport.
The pressures that sports participation can brings to young working class people is highlighted by the life of Benny Lynch. In our August 2016 article, we explained how the socio-economic and emotional cards were stacked against the young Benny who, as well as experiencing extreme poverty, also experienced the loss of his brother and disconnection from his parents. But, when adding Benny Lynch’s life experience to the pressures felt by sportsmen and sportswomen, we feel we were able to identify the various causes that led to Benny Lynch dying aged 33 (when the average age of death in Glasgow for working class men was 48).
Such figures suggest that the ‘man up’ position is a life threatening concept. A dangerous concept that has a lot of history, including use by other prominent men in the media who were in their time accused of hypocrisy. For example, the American film star John Wayne (who still polls highly as one of the USA’s all-time most favourite actors) is quoted as saying:
‘Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway’
John Wayne was an actor who made a lot of money out of war films. He never faced active service and was accused of draft dodging. Yet, he stood as a symbol of macho patriarchy and his films sent messages, to men and boys alike, that stoicism not self-expression were ‘manly’ virtues. Such messages have an insidious, pernicious and malevolent effect – that explains why men are so more likely to die by suicide than women.
Patriarchy sets men an impossible role model to live up to. Our poem and title reflects this.
‘THE ENEMY WITHIN’
NO WAY OUT
THIS TARNISHED FABLE
THAT TRAPS DESPAIR
IN ITS SILENT WEB OF DOUBT?
CLEVER TO WIN WARS
WITHOUT BARBED WIRE
WITHOUT DECLARATION OR RIGHT
BY TURN OF WORN HANDS
IN UNFAIR FIGHT
A SEXIST SCRIPT
THAT PATRIARCHY WRIT
Patriarchy expects men to live up to John Wayne, James Bond, Vin Diesel type movie characters. But who can live up to the standards of a character who does not actually exist in real life?
The insidious nature of patriarchy goes much deeper than stereo-typical movie characters. Capitalism has always been underpinned by wars and warmongers (see this Brina video here for a musical challenge to warmongers). And wars need to be fought by people who will repress their emotions. So, the economic system, within which we live, promotes patriarchy for its own financial gain and right-wing politicians peddle patriarchy in an attempt to distract us from recognising the great injustices of capitalism.
In a predictable and tokenistic attempt to appeal to male patriarchal voters, Theresa May recently appeared on television with her husband and pronounced there were ‘boys jobs’ (such as putting out the bins). Previously in this blog, we have discussed the way that Tory/unionist politicians have sought to play on male/female stereotypes to depict independence supporters as irrational. E.g. in 2014 they utilised old fashions and gendered stereotypes (e.g. emotional ‘air-head’ women) to promote anti-independence messages (remember the patronising lady video).
The unionist parties deliberately sought to appeal to old fashioned right wing values in middle-aged and older voters by stigmatising and shaming ‘irrational’ independence voter who they depict as voting with the heart rather than the cool, rational, mind.
The June 2017 election has become about the very system we want to live in. Do we want to live in a system that is under-written by a different script that promotes empathy, togetherness, the collective good and collaborative problem solving? Or, do we want to continue to live in a world that stereotypes men and women, threatens other European countries with war and delights in the opportunity to impose a Tory hard Brexit that will unleash the full right wing excesses of capitalism on us. The common weal versus ‘bitter’-together – that is the choice that we are faced with.
We can aspire to a different way of being, to live in a system that saves working class lives, rather than, damages people in search of profit. The June 2017 election is a fight between hope over fear, shame over empathy and a patriarchal past over a gender-equity balanced future. On gender issues, the divide between Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon couldn’t be clearer (May, in the USA, letting Trump patronise her by holding her hand v Sturgeon, in the USA, speaks at the UN on gender equality).
Yet, voter turn-out, (especially in relation to voters of different ages and classes) will ultimately decide who prevails in this contest and the Tories are backing their old fashioned (and at times sectarian) approach against the contemporary ideas of Nicola Sturgeon. They are also utilising their media friends to throw as much muck as possible at Nicola Sturgeon seeking to shame the Scottish Government on key policy areas such as Education (where Ruth Davidson just makes up figures at will).
Shame can be self-consciously imposed, peer-group ascribed and externally attributed. It has many forms including: disgrace, embarrassment, humiliation, inadequacy, indiscretion and worthlessness, (see link here). Shame is a key tool of unionist politicians and shame has always been employed as weapon of the powerful to keep everyday people in line, to put a break on collective action and to prevent societal change. Poverty and Shame are inextricably linked.
The Tories utilised shame against the miners in 1984 and they will utilise it against the people of Scotland should they win the 2017 general election in the next few weeks. The emotional impact of the miners strike is set out in Joe Owen’s book ‘Miners 1984-1994’ about the 1980s miner’s strike.
John had the privilege of meeting Joe Owens (with his friend Eddie Donaghy) and discussing politics with him shortly after Joe finished his book on the miner’s strike. Joe’s book explained how the Thatcher Tory government sought to utilise every weapon of the state to take the miners dignity away: including police brutality, anti-union laws, infringement to freedom of assembly and illegal arrest.
Joe Owens was 19 and a miner at Polkemmet colliery, in West Lothian, when the miners’ strike kicked off. The strike was an experience at the heart of Joe’s very way of being. He became the youngest NUM pit delegate ever elected in Scotland. He was a powerful orator and writer (who later became a journalist) but who sadly died aged 44, (see his obituary here). His book gave voice to the working class people that Thatcher sought to silence.
In 1984 the Tories used the media to shame the Miners, they used the same media to shame the people of Liverpool when the police caused the death of 96 football supporters on the 15th of April 1989 at Hillsborough and (in collaboration with the other unionist parties) to shame independence supporters in 2014. Presently Ruth Davidson’s only political strategy is to throw mud at the SNP in an attempt to shame Nicola Sturgeon in 2017. Davidson doesn’t care if the truth gets in the way of her attacks.
The Tories continually utilise shame as a shield in a way that lacks empathy, honesty, and self-reflection. This inability makes them unfit for office. They point fingers at everyone else, in the hope no one notices their inadequacies: it is they who crashed the recovery (resulting in UK government debt increasing by over £450 billion), it is they who mismanaged the economic tax take (that led the Scottish Government’s budget to be decreased by 12%), it is they who incompetently put prices up in the supermarket (when Brexit crashed the pound), it is they who will take food out of the mouths of children (through the withdrawal of school means) and it is they who now refuse to guarantee pensioners triple lock (that enables the state pension to increase by price inflation, wage inflation or 2.5 % – whichever is higher).
People seek to avoid shame during social-interactions and right-wing politicians play on this fact. Hence, during the 2014 referendum unionist politicians and the media sought to associate shame with community and grass roots mobilisation of the Yes vote by sending out scare stories regarding violence caused by independence supporters.
Ironically it was unionist supporters who were charged with the vast amount of acts of violence and unionist supporters who caused a riot in Glasgow. The unionist tactic worked because it reduced turn out of working class people (a 5% higher turnout of working class voters would have led to a Yes victory).
Shame is not felt by everyone in the same way. Class has an important influence on shame. People, who exploit their fellow man and women for profit, are taught early in life not to feel shame or have empathy for their fellow human beings. For example, the editors and owners of the sun showed no shame when in 2015 printing contradictory headlines on the front pages of the English and Scottish versions of their papers.
The people who pocketed huge pensions during the financial crash demonstrated no sense of shame; whilst costing the country billions (e.g. the debt caused by the crash, lost tax revenues due to unemployment and reduced tax income due to evasion/fraud). They showed know shame when their Tory mates came in and changed the rules on pensions to ensure the rest of us won’t get a pension until aged 70 (or more).
Nor do Tory politicians show any shame when their decisions kill disabled people. Research suggests that the higher your socio-economic status the less likely you are to show empathy for others. The Tory Government are cutting welfare by 1.5billion by 2020 and ken loach’s film shows us, in no uncertain terms, what a systemic lack of empathy looks like:.
Daniel: ‘Av had a major heart attack. I’ve been told by my doctor I’m not supposed ti go back ti work yet’
Benefits officer: ‘I’m afraid you must continue to look for work or your benefits payments will be frozen’
Daniel: ‘There must be some mistake’
Scotland has always acted collectively to see off Tory excesses and the likelihood is that over 70% of Scots will again vote for parties other than the Conservative party. Hence, Scotland has always been different to England when it comes to empathy and connectedness to your fellow voter. This is what the 2017 election will be about. Unless we, as a society, address poverty and its cultural, economic and social contexts that lead to illnesses of despair, we will continue to fail our fellow men and women.
So what needs to be done? After voting SNP (the only party that can reasonably be expected to, solely, represent Scotland’s interests in the context of Westminster’s first past the post system).
There are three other key things we can do.
- First, we need to overcome the financial inequality in our society including low wages, poor quality housing, lack of access to land, rent induced poverty and the scourge of unemployment/under employment.
- Second, we need to address the democratic deficit with the establishment of greater participatory democracy in local authority areas including an increase in citizen led: housing associations, cooperatives and solutions focussed structures (such as intergenerational citizen hubs, camps, juries etc). We need to create flexible systems that enable people living in Scotland to resolve local barriers to equality and foster local decision making.
- Third, we need to reject ‘Man Up’ cultures and make it the norm for men to talk about their emotions. Working Class men need to lead this attitudinal and cultural change urgently. In simple terms, men must decide to talk to other men about their feelings and the society which they strive to grow up in.
Overcoming Financial Inequality:
Poverty causes shame, for example:
- Where children go to school hungry and parents wonder how they will cloth them, keep a roof over their head and pay for heating.
- Were a parent feels judged every time they meet a health professional who doesn’t come from our understand the context of their lives.
- Where working-class students are talked down to at university because they speak with different accents
- Where children don’t feel they can invite school friends back to an under resourced home or miss school because the other pupil’s judge the clothes they wear.
Shame is experienced in different ways internally, externally, emotionally and physically and we will not reduce death by suicide unless we address poverty and its socio-relational impact.
The Scottish Government are aware of the link between poverty and suicide (as demonstrated by this statement in the 2013-2016 suicide prevention strategy see link here)
‘In addition to many chronic health conditions and morbidity highlighted in the Equally Well Report on Health Inequalities, suicide rates feature strongly in the most deprived populations in Scotland. The rate is three times higher in the most deprived 20% of the population compared to the least deprived 20%. Over the course of the Choose Life programme there has been a reduction of 20% in the deaths by suicide of males. Deaths by suicide for females have reduced by 10%. Despite this greater reduction in suicide among men, suicide is an overwhelmingly male behaviour. The charts in this document highlight the areas of A&E, acute hospital admission and mental health prescriptions that present particular challenges within our current system and require a developmental approach towards improvement.’
Our 2016 article:
- Discussed the connection between poverty, class and illnesses of despair in Scotland.
- Questioned why the ineptitude of unionist politicians allowed premature mortality rates for those under the age of 65 in Scotland to become 20% higher than in England & Wales.
- Highlighted the scandal that 300,000 more people died prematurely in Glasgow over a 60 year period than in Liverpool and Manchester (5000 people a year).
- Our 2016 article also considered the socio-economic context of illnesses of despair in relation to Benny Lynch the first Scottish World champion Boxer:
‘The 2003 documentary sought to explain Benny’s death at the age of 33 as being caused by personal grief and the constant drain that boxing placed on his body. But this explanation fails to place Benny Lynch life in context. Such explanations prevent us from understanding and addressing the fact that inequality and decades of political mismanagement have caused ill health and premature deaths in Glasgow – for every Benny Lynch there are thousands more who died prematurely and who possessed less celebrated names but were, no doubt, just as equally loved by family and friends.’
In 2016 we indicated that the ‘Glasgow Effect’ report found that a series of issues led to increased illnesses of despair including: discrimination relating to housing of migrants; poor housing stock; a lack of development of derelict land; a lack of a healthy environment (e.g. local parks, leisure facilities, etc.); a lack of local decision making (e.g. housing associations led by local people); and the imposition of political decision making by Westminster and pre-devolution Scottish Office ministers (we might call this unionist dis-empowerment). Poor city planning decisions led to the brake up of supportive local relationships.
Hence it is not simply money but a lack of investment, selfish top-down political decision making and a culture of disempowerment that has caused and still causes illness of despair. The report specifically states that one of the key causes was ‘much lower per capita investment in housing repairs and maintenance of the public housing stock’. (see link here)
Similarly, the opportunity for local people to utilise land to develop their own solutions to their life problems is extremely low. Scotland has the worst record of land ownership in the western world with 432 private land owners owning 50% of the private land in rural Scotland and 1,380 private land owners owning 90% of Scotland’s land area of 7.9 million hectares.
If we analyse the politics of disempowerment we can hear echoes of the ‘Man Up’ philosophy. In political terms, for decades Glaswegians had to get up the back of the bus and shut up. The message they were sent by unionist politicians was that they were too poor, too wee and too stupid to influence local and national decision-making.
Voices of complaint were defined as irrational, local feelings wishes and aspiration were deemed unimportant (particularly in the Thatcher era) and Glaswegians were sent the message they should just get on with things; whilst the state attacked, brutalised and dismantled the social, cultural and economic aspects of their lives.
Our 2016 article advocated an intersectional analysis of the contexts that foster illnesses of despair amongst Scots and specifically Glaswegians:
‘Why is it that the ‘well to do’ folk (including those of the main stream media) feel the need to constantly pick on Glasgow and its citizens in an individualistic way that does not recognise the context in which generation after generation have been forced, by inadequate politicians, to live their lives? None of us are ever free from transgressions, shortcomings and failings, but by blaming people’s ill health on their own flaws – such commentators overlook the root and intersectional causes of health inequality in Glasgow.’
These root causes were identified in 1913 by the social reformer John MacLean as the inability of the city ‘fathers’ to build adequate and high quality housing in the appropriate places and their selfishness in seeking to make housing decisions that profited the few, at the expense of the many:
‘Mr. Peter Fife; Sanitary Inspector, contributed his quota by informing the world that in Glasgow there are 20,000 “ticketed” houses, houses so bad that his staff has constantly to supervise them. These pig-sty erections shelter between 70,000 and 80,000… …But Peter thinks it neither safe nor practical for the city to erect cottages round the suburbs! I can imagine the capitalist builders and factors of the neighbourhood whispering with sighs of relief, “Peter, faithful Peter.”… … The Corporation has already special powers to deal with slums, and has special committees galore to handle the various phases of housing. And yet, up till now, it has done nothing. Why is it going to move at last? One reason is the growing determination of the workers to have better house accommodation. Another reason is the 19,000 unlet houses in the city owing to the migration suburb wards, this latter is the more powerful If many slum areas are bought and used for air spaces the owners will gain handsomely, whilst their brethren will get a larger number of lets. This game is absolutely transparent when we consider the motion proposed by the Lord Provost and carried at the meeting. (John MacLean ‘Justice in 1913’).
MacLean connected inequality with top down decision making by local authorities and we still have one of the least democratic local authority structures in Europe.
Enabling Local Democracy:
It is easy to blame ourselves for our health failings but such an approach masks the impact of culture, politics and economics. The Glasgow Effect report (see link here) confirmed MacLean’s proposition that housing had never been adequately resourced and that decisions were made by unionist politicians in a way that disempowered Glaswegians.
A lack of participatory democracy starts at the early ages with children’s first experiences of schooling. Recent research in Scotland demonstrates that structures such as pupil councils do not enable participatory democracy because adult hierarchies in Schools inhibit real participation (see Common Weal report here and University of Edinburgh report here). It’s not surprising that some schools are anti-democratic, don’t engage with pupil voice and do not enable empathy when the policy context around them has forced to become ‘exam factories’
We need to question our surroundings, such as school rules. A questioning approach is important because it moves from a focus that blames individuals to a focus that emphasises the context within which our lives are located (including our ideas of self). This shift is important because it does not locate the solutions only in the individual, it associates solutions with changing our socio-economic environment and the power of the collective.
Some local authorities have been working hard to address death by suicide but there is a tendency for policies and toolkits to focus on technical rational solutions at the service end of the issue, rather than address the root causes of suicide.
See for example this toolkit for local authorities (see link here) which advocates solutions such as suicide prevention strategies, local training, post-suicide primary care services, the suicide proofing of local areas, multi-professionals planning, local information exchange, local suicide stigma reduction and monitoring of the causes of suicide in local areas.
These are important issues and the follow the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for preventing ‘chain-reaction’ suicides (see link here). The WHO guidelines highlight the importance of ‘enhancing the mental health literacy in the community’ and indicate that anything from 50% to 75% of suicides the person did not have recent contact with mental health services. Yet, their recommendations tend to focus on the immanent or post-suicide aspect of people’s lives, rather than the societal causes of suicide.
Such policies lacks a critical, radical or political edge, for example, at no point does the Scottish local authorities toolkit employ the word poverty or seek to understand how working-class communities can develop their own solutions to illnesses of despair.
The Scottish Governments argues that a 18% reduction in suicides in Scotland between 2002 and 2012 was achieved due to greater training of front line staff, greater listening and by better targeting of local patients with alcohol and depression issues. Yet, improvements were gained by treating the symptoms not the causes of illnesses of despair.
Indeed, the first main aim of the government’s suicide prevention strategy is to respond to people in distress, not, to change the conditions that lead to distress. We need much more focus on anti-poverty strategies, developing local community empathy, establishing informal supportive relationships and ultimately, growing stronger communities.
To be fair to the Scottish Government, they have been confronted by a Westminster Tory administration hell bent on increasing poverty, harassing unemployed/disabled people to the point of suicide and sowing discontent in our communities. The Scottish Government has one hand tied around its back when trying to reduce the impact of poverty that is caused at a UK level. The only sensible solution is to create an independent Scotland that is based on empathy not shame and set out to achieve a more inter-connected and participatory nation. Thankfully, our young people seem to understand this and seek to follow the words of Nelson Mandela.
Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom. Nelson Mandela
We cannot let our greatness blossom if we do not overcome our economic and our emotional poverty. Our emotional poverty is also man-made in the imposition of ‘Man Up’ cultures, in patriarchal film characters and in national stereotypes. Indeed, boys also tell us that friends and family play as much a role as the media in reinforcing these stereotypes.
The hard, athletic, independent, respected, virile, ‘real’, ‘tough-man’ stereotype comes with a ‘doesn’t measure up’ discourse (a man who is a, ‘woose, wimp, fag, sissy’ etc, see video link here to Jackson Katz discussing Tough Guise: Violence, Media & the Crisis in Masculinity 1999). Such stereotypes have, since the 1990s, been consistently challenged and more recently MC, poet and educator Guante put forward a very poetic rebuttle of the phrase here in his ‘10 responses to the phrase’ ‘Man up’)
Such videos suggested that not only do the victims and loved ones of victims of violent crimes have much to gain if we reduce male violence in our society, but, ‘male perpetrators’ will also gain because ‘tough guys’ are constructed in way that means they are forced to simply suppressing deeper unaddressed emotions that they would be able to release if our societies were not so grim, insensitive and violent. And, of course, all men gain if they are able to live in a society that is less violent and more open about emotions.
In Scotland, the ‘Hard Man’ stereotype is often portrayed in film but it may have a much more ancient basis. For example, the ancient people of Scotland were referred to as the Caledonians. The name has Celtic (and even pre-Celtic) origin meaning people of the *kal- “hard” and *φēdo- “foot” which could refer to the rocky land or the hardiness of the people.
Similarly, the word Pict comes from the Roman reference to the people of what is now Scotland being painter warriors. So war, aggression and hard men (people of the rock) would appear to be in our history and make up.
In our work, we have seen the impact of suppressed grief-emotions; the “just put grief in deep freeze” approach that occurs when people are unable, due to multiple-issues, to process grief. When people are unable to move on because their life circumstances leave them “punch drunk” from the impact of a combination of economic, social and cultural blows.
Very often we have encountered people, especially men, who have withheld their need for a strong show of emotions in order not to upset other people (including their families). It is the sense of people feeling overwhelmed by life and having no escape that leads to suicide. Such feelings are exacerbated by Tory welfare policies that unfairly sanction people for the most pathetic and mean spirited of reasons. Around 599 extra suicides have been found to be connected with the changes to assessment for work, 4000 people have died after being assessed fit for work and the UN reported there had been grave and systematic violations of disabled people by the systems put in place by this Tory government.
Benny Lynch won the world champions prize but in reality he failed to win the longer term prize of a stable emotional life. He was part of a boxing stable that did not last and gradually felt he was disempowered, disenfranchised and deceived by specific people in the boxing establishment.
He was also constantly haunted by the fear of failure and is reputed to have said that prior to winning the world championship he was concerned that he should not let his fellow countrymen down. Benny Lynch died young and a multitude of factors led to his, at times, lost spirit of resistance.
This is a phrase that Christina in her first book of poetry in 1995 “ To Heal A Wounded Spirit” wrote a dedication to her own parents (Sadie and Jimmy) both born in the Gorbals of the 1900s.
‘It is their (often broken) spirits of resistance that haunts and inspires me , and my achievements are shared with them, and in their memory’
It is unacceptable that people should lead such lives, it is unacceptable that we should test people’s spirits of resistance to the limit and it is unacceptable that Scottish culture does not do self-expression. For example, we discussed the issue of male emotions with a leading commentator in Scottish politics who advocates participatory democracy. We were dismayed to find that he proclaimed himself to be old fashioned and to dislike the modern request for men to be more open.
We are not suggesting men go onto TV programmes to express their emotion. We are suggesting that men talk more to their loved ones, friends and community members. That, they find the mediums of self-expression words, music, art, poetry drama song, that suits them best and that they strive to express their pain so that it does not overcome them. The contest that men need to win concerns local self-expression v suppression.
The lives of men matter. For the many families who have suffered tragic, often unexpected, loss of brothers, sons, partners, friends and many more, this is a statement of truth
We have sought (with others) to enable the discussion of Benny Lynch life problems to opens doors for men to talk about their lives. Benny Lynch was courageous and kind, famous and failed, and tough and talented, he was not simply a ‘macho’ boxer.
In Benny Lynch, many working class men see a reflection of their-self and redemption of best aspects of their-selves. In time, the Benny Lynch legacy may be that of contributing to a reduction in suicides through the development of social policy that is based on a more rounded understanding of the factors that cause loss of life through mental health suppression in Scotland.
Suicide rates in Scotland are high, yet it need not be that way. Suicide rates in Scotland began to differ from England in the late 1960s (just as the excesses of the disastrous housing policies began to bite). Hence, what is socially and culturally engineered can also be re-worked and reduced. And, we can also call on our maternal history, our strong history of community storytelling, sharing of the soup pot and local humour as antidotes to the ‘hard man’ stereotype.
The ancient history also bequeaths us shaman, the Cailleach, the Carlyn, the seer and the storyteller, who encourage us to share our emotions; paint our story with words; illuminate; and resonate.
Such cultures sit deeply within working class people waiting to be celebrated, recognised and utilised to open up the hearts and emotions of men.
Moving From ‘Man Up’ Cultures To Relationships of Empathy
Christina has written a poem to encapsulate the need for a shift away from ‘Man Up’ cultures:
Troon beach early morning 13.2.2017
let go of anger
which we are all trained in
let go of prejudice
which we are all trained in
let go of sadness
let go of pain
let go of conditioning
let go of past
to the Sea
All wisdom is here
We need to connect with our deepest historical traditions and value each other’s contributions to the common weal. In contrast to Bitter together project shame, Tory Anglo-Saxon taciturnity and Theresa May’s ‘waspishness’, traditional societies have always understood the importance of working through in a relationship based way. This idea also comes out in therapeutic and humanist approaches to modern life.
‘To truly be committed to a life of honesty, love and discipline, we must be willing to commit ourselves to reality.’ John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame that Binds You
Yet, modern life separates individuals from their communities and the media constantly sets out to shame people e.g. sports men and women who do not fulfil expectations, mothers that can’t breast feed, schools that do not rate highly in league tables, fathers who can’t provide consumer goods for their children, people who live in ‘sink’ estates and families who require welfare.
Indeed, the ‘benefits porn’ industry ignore the root causes of inequality and blame everyday people for the impact of austerity that was, actually, caused by rich unionists who were given honours and titles at Westminster .
Such perspectives reduce people down to what they can’t do and fail to recognise their capabilities. In contrast, ‘empathetic stance’ is a key aspect of assets-based, strength-based and social justice ways of being. Such approaches consider other people’s perspectives in ways that recognise that our society creates inequitable access to financial, emotional, professional and legal resources.
Such approaches promote empathy over shame. There are two types of empathy ‘Affective’ Empathy (‘mirroring’) where a person feels what another person is going through and ‘Cognitive’ Empathy (perspective taking) that involves taking another’s perspective.
Researchers have found that empathetic people are more likely to help others (even when it goes against their own interest) and that empathy reduces bullying (e.g. racism), enables intimacy (e.g. in relationships), makes people more likely to stand up against inequality and ignites a willingness to work together across social groups (see link here).
This is an important observation when related to the nil sum (winner takes all) politics of Westminster. Empathy is the resource that constantly replenishes (even when other resources are scarce). Yet, empathy is the very resource that Theresa May and Ruth Davidson welfare polices lack (e.g. in relation to disabled people, people with large families and women who have been raped). The Tories don’t care that words matter and the way that words make you feel matter. Poets know this:
Poetry is an act of peace.
Peace goes into the
making of a poet as
flour goes into bread.
Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a’ that,
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth
Shall bear the gree an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man the warld o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that.
John, in his previous blog post of May 2017, explored the suggestion that we are currently haunted by the words and sound bites of politician’s, their tired metaphors, manipulations and myths. We need a politics that has deeper feeling and is more meaningful:
“Poetry matters more than ever before, because we are more challenged than ever before. Poetry is the essential language that, endlessly branching, enables us to live deeply and envision what matters most.” Arthur Sze, Chancellor, Academy of American Poets Chancellor.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
Therefore, a key aspect of empathy is understanding and using words and processes that connect, rather than, distance our-selves from each other. Music can be a key aspect of that. Think for a minute about the lyrics of the Otis Redding’s song, These arms of mine – see video here:
They are lonely
Lonely and feeling blue
These arms of mine
They are yearning
Yearning from wanting you
And if you
Would let them
Hold you Oh how grateful I will be
These arms of mine
They are burning
Burning from wanting you
These arms of mine
They are wanting
Wanting to hold you
And if you
Would let them hold you
Ohh how grateful I will be
These words, as expressed by a man, demonstrate the need to use our arms to uplift each other, to overcome isolation and to give warmth where there is an isolating cold. We need to enable men to use their arms in such a way that up lifts others, to utilise their arms as a force for good and not as weapons. Arms are for helping, holding and hugging – not for confronting.
Shame involves a process where we write an inner story that we are ‘bad’, ‘weak’ or ‘cowardly’ people. An alternative exists where we recognise the context of our stories, where other’s listen to us with compassion, altruism (self-less concern for others) and we collectively shake off cultures of blame and shame.
In recent years, men’s ability to develop empathy (and more peaceable lives) has been related to shifting societal roles (e.g. attending the birth of their children and being involved in day to day care of children) and there are men out there, in ‘traditonal’ occupations who are trying to help each other.
In Australia a self-help group of construction workers called, ‘HALT – Hope Assistance Local Tradies’, is seeking to reduce male suicide by helping and assisting their fellow workers. They are offering breakfast rolls tea coffee, kind words, open ears and a chat to save lives by enabling working class men to talk openly to each other (see link here) men leading men to save the lives of men.
The solutions to issue of male mental health are multiple but cultural barriers can be overcome in community approaches such as those utilised by organisations such as GalGael. Who describe themselves as a social justice organisation:
‘GalGael work on the front line and help to tackle social injustice through training, getting people involved in cultural and natural heritage as well as providing a safe and supportive community. In 2016 we began to look at the Universal Basic Income as a means to provide jobless people with guaranteed income to replace unemployment benefit to give people more security and remove the stigma of being unemployed. More here.
Galgael also provide creative spaces and projects for self-expression. In so doing they work at every level of the issue social, cultural and economic.
Tam McGarvey explains their thinking in this video (see link here). Rather than seeing people as a burden to state, Galgael believe every person can become a powerful resource. They argue that citizens, if you give them the chance, can do amazing things.
Galgael seek to overcome stereotypes concerning local history (e.g. Local gang territory and culture) by creating stimulating, imaginative and meaningful (not tokenistic) work that connects natural, cultural and family history. Tam McGarvey argues that everyone has a story, we are all part of a story and (in a similar way to Irvin Yalom) that we are all authors of our own stories.
At Galgael people learning about history, are encouraged to reengage with their family history (e.g. coming from Ireland) and are encouraged to reconnect with nature through the collaborative building of the boats with their hands. Tam McGarvey argues that the process enables local people form Govan to learn wonderful things and that when they eventually sail up the beautiful waters of the Clyde in the boat they have built, they are enabled to consider their identities in a wider context.
At the heart of Halt and Galgael is the idea that we can cooperate to build meaningful relationships that move us beyond the anomie (lack of purpose) and the ennui (instability and disconnectedness) of modern life.
Although we have argued that financial issues set a context for suicide, Irvin Yalom, see link here, tends to point us to the understanding that money does not buy happiness nor love, or as is often quoted in Scotland “there are no pockets in a shroud” – so you cannot take it with you. Loving relationships and strong communities are the true human riches of our brief time on this wee planet.
Benny Lynch gave a lot of his earnings away, in a manner that suggests he knew this. Flattery, fame and fortune could not heal his wounds nor resolve his despair. He never forgot his roots from the Gorbals where in the 1900s (and still to this day) the majority of working class people strived to help each other and where a shared sense of community meant people were understanding and compassionate in relation to each other’s harsh life circumstances.
The story of the life of Benny Lynch and his empathy towards” his ain folk” is a message for us all.
Thanks to people like Lynne Lees Gorbals citizen and Founder of The Remembering Benny lynch Statue Campaign along with the generosity of people from Gorbals, Glagow, London, Dublin and across the world. The message will not be forgotten.
We have sought to make meaning for you here today in ways that promote an empathetic approach to our lives – we appreciate you reading our blog post and connecting (or not) with our perspective and ideas.