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OPINION: Men’s yarns need work

By Gerald Ford

June is apparently men’s health month.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you hadn’t heard of it, because neither had I, and now it seems there is only a day or two left, for me to think meaningful male thoughts about wellness.

As part of the Too Many campaign, Wairarapa DHB has taken advantage of the lunar labelling to plug a program called Good Yarn, empowering rural people to monitor their own and each other’s mental health.

Supported by the usual industry bodies, including happily a couple of women’s groups, the workshops target farmers and make a good fit with men’s health.

As one participant has said of these workshops, they’ve encouraged him to give an honest answer when asked “How are you?”, and to then return the question, which encourages similar replies.

This is a good start.

The Kiwi bloke mentality is evolving, I think, but it doesn’t hurt to take a look now and again at what still needs to change.

I’ve lost count of the number of people my generation and older who claim to have been educated in the “school of hard knocks”.

If you think about it, for this to be perpetuated, someone needs to be doing the knocking.

In fact, a whole culture of “mentoring through cruelty” has to be maintained – and like it or not, this is a part of our Kiwi cultural baggage.

You can see it in the tricks played on the newbie – like sending him out for a left-handed screwdriver or a skyhook, or in my case to the storeroom to ask for a “long weight” (long wait).

Yes, I fell for it.

This is pretty harmless, of course, but there are times it goes too far.

There is a fine line between good-natured ribbing and bullying, and not everyone knows where it is.

The newbie often has to persevere to find his unique place, and it takes a strong character at times to refuse to play the “pecking order” game by diverting attention to another victim.

I read of a car mechanic apprentice in Berkshire, UK, whose workplace treatment allegedly included being set on fire and tied up and hosed down with a pressure washer, among insensitive comments about his mental health.

It came out in the inquest of his suicide.

I don’t know many if any men that would condone this sort of stuff, but it is the inevitable extreme when we insist that “being able to take a joke” is one of the cardinal male virtues.

With a little more honesty about our own weaknesses, and a lot more kindness when we see our fellow man going through a hard time, maybe we can see fewer of these bad yarns and more of the good.

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