Men and Health: three contemplations for Movember

A series of events has lead me to think ask a few more questions about men’s health. The events in the last few days included attending a talk on leadership by Geelong football player Harry Taylor, a meeting and related discussions with the men’s group I’m part of, the opening of an exhibition “Tutu for Blue” that is also a fundraiser for Beyond Blue, and my decision to grow a moustache as part of Movember.

From those events, my open contemplations are along the lines of:

  • Enabling men’s health vs. avoiding / repairing men’s sickness?
  • How is men’s health different: from women’s and for men in different stages and circumstances?
  • What / who men’s health is “for”, and what having more healthy men would enable?

The distinction between health and avoiding sickness seems important. The first journal article on the field of apithology makes the distinction between pathology as the study of the causes of disease and the apithology as the study of the nature of health its causes, processes, development, and consequences. The priorities and focus for the Movember-funded programs, for example, highlight a range of brilliant and effective interventions that have “a positive impact on getting men engaged and thinking about their health and taking preventative action”. Noticing the focus, I considered what would be the indicators and behaviours characteristic of more men taking “enabling action” of their health and flourishing (instead of / in addition to preventing their sickness)? For example, how different would the focus and content of a conversation about men’s sexuality be if it wasn’t about avoiding trouble/sickness/disease and harm, and instead about what is a healthy, contributive expression of your sexuality?

The thought about healthy sexuality lead me to consider how men’s health different from women’s health, or just “people’s” health? A quick look at Men’s Health magazine online vs Women’s Health magazine online is sort of interesting, as they both have very similar focus, suggesting not that much difference between gender’s perceptions of health. This comic about unconscious double standards in inter-gender relations highlights some different dynamics that may need to be considered in health.The other observation from viewing the Men’s Health magazine website, is that what health means to men is going to be radically different at different life/developmental stages and in different cultures: I don’t think their target audience includes boys under 15 or men over 45.

For example, the conditions and behaviours that enable the health of a 15 year-old teenage boy at a private school in Perth are likely to be very different from those portrayed in Men’s Health, and of those of a 45-year old father of three living on a farm outside Northampton. Even if the behaviour was the same (e.g. running every morning) the meaning-made and health-contribution may be vastly different (e.g. training hard alone to test the body’s limits and earning peer respect through performance at races in the teenager, and running in a group of the same age making time for social interaction for the father). This sort of consideration would be well-informed by consideration of a adult development models like Graves’, but for me this will simply stand for me as an ongoing contemplation and topic for conversation this month.

A further distinction may be about what men’s health is ‘for’. That is, health in its own right is probably accepted as valuable, but with masculine drive, purpose and passion, looking after one’s personal health may be a low priority compared to looking after the health of your family, business or otherwise. I think this is where consideration of the coaction of individual men’s health and their context is critical. As an example, my own physical health really becomes a priority where it obviously contributed to better work performance, personal relationships or enabled a new kind of contribution to my community (or humanity).

At times, I’ve seen time spent exercising, meditating or journalling as ‘wasted’ because I couldn’t see how it contributed to other priorities. To use another example, it’s easily understandable that if the meaning one makes from life is being a good family provider (money, food, shelter), good mate (beer and bbqs with the boys), and good worker (focus, self-sacrifice, and doing extra hours); then your personal physical health or emotional wellbeing could be perceived as a very low priority…until something catastrophic happens. It seems that any conversation or action to enable individual men’s health probably needs to consider how that man’s health could be meaningful in terms of their existing (or aspirational) self-identity, community contribution or realisation of their own purpose or passion. This TEDx video considers something along those lines, re-defining what it means to ‘be a man’.

That brings me back to the distinction about enabling health rather than preventing sickness. It seems any conversation about Men’s Health could benefit from the stories of people whose personal, physical, mental health was enabling of the health of their families and communities, and perhaps that of humanity.

Rather than leave men alone to deal with (or ignore) their own suffering, imagine if we were consciously considering the conditions that were enabling of men’s health, healthy development and health-enabling contribution through every stage of their lives!

That sort of conversation about alignment, integration and enabling is very different from that about diets, stress and prevention.

I’m looking forward to this month of mo-growing, contemplation and conversation, to see what insights and learning I can glean…that may enable my health, others, and humanities as a contribution.

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