*This article is my own, originally published in the Huffington Post, 10/16/2014
In early 1941, a man named Haakon joined up with the 35th Squadron of His Majesty’s Royal Air Force to fight the Nazis. He served as a tail gunner and flew on many missions including the bombing of Paris. In late 1941, Haakon was shot down over Hamburg, Germany. His face was scraped up and he was struck three times in the back of his neck by shell fragments. He would soon get promoted to 1st Lieutenant and serve the majority of the rest of the war in York, England teaching advanced tactics to members of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Haakon returned to the United States, got a job as a mason, was married, and had two children. He would later suffer from undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder from his time in the war. In 1966, just shy of his fiftieth birthday, he died by suicide.
I, a 30-year-old American man, didn’t know any of these details about my grandfather until recently when I stumbled upon old newspapers online. We didn’t talk about Haakon when I was a child because my father, Haakon’s son, was ashamed of the way Haakon died and kept him a secret.
The stigma of Haakon’s death loomed over my father for his entire life, and in 2009 my father took his own life at the age of 60 while going through a divorce with my mother.
In 2011, after my father’s death, a falling out with my mother, and a bad break up; I nearly took my life as well. Not wanting to die and knowing my two predecessors didn’t speak up; I finally opened up and got help.
Statistically speaking, people who have had suicides in their family are at greater risk to make a suicide attempt. I can’t help but think that if Haakon’s story hadn’t included his time in the Royal Air Force; then Douglas might not have died, and my story would look different as well. You can’t change the past but you can create your future, and so I wanted to go back to where it all began-the United Kingdom.
For years, I’ve been inching to get to the bottom of male suicide – not just an American thing or a British thing, but a problem worldwide. Statistically in the US and UK, men above 50 years of age have a high rate of suicide – roughly 75% of suicides in both the US and UK are male and worldwide there is an average of one suicide per forty seconds. I wanted to know what we could do to prevent that. To do so I interviewed Dr. Max Mackay-James, a doctor based in the UK, who founded Conscious Ageing Trust and Men Beyond 50.
Q1: Is suicide learned-behaviour or is it truly preventable?
A1: It is preventable – there is nothing inevitable about suicide. Every suicide involves a choice, and in every case the choice can go either way. In any moment we can decide to kill ourselves, or we can choose to stay alive.
Every man or woman alive has more than likely had the thought, however fleeting, that in this moment, in this situation, he or she could choose to kill him or herself. That’s okay – it’s a thought comes with simply being human. But we have a choice and help and hope does exist in this world.
Whether you’re in crisis or if you want to help someone in crisis – it’s important to develop the feeling of being vulnerable, especially us men. Why? Because it allows us to feel empathy for others so we look out for each other more, but even more important it gives us compassion for ourselves. We men get into the habit of thinking we are invulnerable, and it’s simply not the case.
Q2: What is it about men aged 50+ that causes risk for suicide?
A2: The way men are brought up to believe what it takes to “be a man” may add to the risks. When traditional expectations of men about power and control no longer work in today’s society, intense feelings of shame, disgrace, and sense of personal failure can result in potentially self-destructive behaviour.
Loneliness and isolation can increase the risks of suicide. Research on male social networks shows that both 30+ and 50+ men may have fewer supportive relationships, and that (compared with women) men may lack skills and experience in coping emotionally.
Q3: How can we lend a hand to men aged 50+ in crisis of thinking of suicide?
A3: Simply remember to stay in touch with a feeling of vulnerability. Don’t judge, don’t panic, and don’t feel you have to be an expert. Being open to this feeling of vulnerability will give us a good chance to help somebody thinking seriously about suicide.
Since mental illness is so common in suicides, the “canary” warning sign is likely to be depression. So being able to recognise this (see signs of depression HERE), and letting that person talk especially in a time of deep unhappiness or distress can make all the difference. Giving our own emotional support and signposting somebody to get appropriate and timely professional help can and does help prevent suicides.
Helplines and support groups
Samaritans (08457 90 90 90)
A 24-hour service available every day of the year.
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) (0800 58 58 58)
A resource and helpline for young men who are feeling unhappy.
Silver Line (0800 4 70 80 90)
A helpline providing information, friendship and advice to older people
Josh and Dr. Max are working together around International Men’s Day on 19 November, to break the taboo on men talking about depression, mental health, and suicidal thoughts. To join the conversation click here, or go towww.gospeljosh.com/uk; and www.menbeyond50.net.
The Problem with the Phrase “Instead of Complaining… Do Something About It” — When Talking About Making Massive, Societal Change
I. To create massive change many people think someone else is going to do it. Hypothetically, the problem affects thousands if not millions of people, and someone else is going to be so pissed off about it, that they’ll be the one to solve it… but not me.
I’m certainly guilty of that on some points: campaign finance reform, the de-unionization of some of my acting work, and getting people to stop saying Diet Dr. Pepper tastes like regular Dr. Pepper (it doesn’t).
II. People think they lack the time to make change.
This is often an invisible script in a person’s head. One person taking ten minutes a day to create change might not seem effective (it is). But when that one person can inspire hundreds, thousands, or millions to take ten minutes a day… now we’re getting somewhere.
III. In the very beginning of a change movement, the two prototypes of people needed (in this order):
1) A person who has an idea to make change, who is willing to follow through, and who is willing to rally and inspire the troops as it were.
2) Someone who wields social influence. A celebrity, a queen (not that kind of queen… but maybe actually!), a well-respected person within the community. This person will affect the masses (social proof), telling them that person 1’s idea is brilliant and worthy of implementation.
Note: Point number “2” can take lots of different forms (including that person undeservedly getting a lion’s share of the credit for the work) and the person or persons from point number “1” must stuff their ego for the greater good of getting the job done.
IV. People (non-celebrities) who want to make change in an area where there is a vacuum for strong leadership, think that they have to be the leader or the idea person to make change, when neither of these qualities (leader or idea person) truly suits them.
Not true. A non-leader or non-idea person can affect change by keeping the candle for change lit until a leader and/or idea person steps to the forefront—OR they can help create the search to find the leader and/or idea person.
There is a role for everyone to affect change at some point during the movement: the seamstress, the accountant, the beer master (yea!), the wet nurse, the mechanic.
V. Humans often need to be backed in a corner, away from comfort and toward danger or discomfort, before they will work to create positive change
1) This could be a reason why multi-million dollar athletes often invent or hype up words said by an opposing player, or the coach who cut them from the team in the third grade. On a human level, they have all of their creature comforts… but if they don’t stay motivated, they won’t be able to get better as a player or score their next big contract.
2) How much are we willing to take before things get bad and we’re backed into a corner?
* * *
In fact, what I presented are not really problems with the phrase “Instead of Complaining… Do Something About It;” but problems that exist because we humans put them there, unnecessarily so. Our species is incredibly resilient, smart, and resourceful.
Things haven’t always been this way. Someone or something else affected change to become this way. You are part of this incredibly resilient, smart, and resourceful species as well—meaning you, too have the ability to create that change you want to see in the world.
Failure is inevitable, it’s to be expected—so we create a contingency plan for it, we find ways to learn from it and come back stronger… essentially learning how to become masters of failure.
Bear with me on this metaphor for a hot second. Failure is a bump in the road that we need to learn to navigate our vehicle on, around, or through. Preparing for this bump could be buying or creating a new map, driving slower, souping up your vehicle’s tires, or building or buying a massive super-vehicle.
In the real world, moving away from the vehicle/bump-in-the-road metaphor; there are at least thousands of ways to prepare. I could certainly, but won’t (the audience collectively sighs in relief), write about all the combinations and permutations—but the only thing to do here is talk about mindset.
You can control how you respond to failure (even if you don’t know how to respond specifically just yet). Knowing, conceptually at least, that you’re not a failure if you fail, even repeatedly; is a great first step. But as par for the course, you will have to tell yourself often that you’re not a failure—depending on how big your risks are and often you’re taking them—weekly, daily, or hourly.
I know I certainly do… and I don’t know if that will ever go away. There are always bigger fish to fry (or larger chunks of seitan, I suppose for my non-meat eating friends).
Despite the variety of different circumstances, the need and developing a mindset to adequately prepare for failure is the one catch all.
There is no bad news here, only good news. Preparing for and then dealing with failure does get easier. Failure does involve some pain but so does the deliberate numbing of pain as well (just delayed and more intense).
Planning for failure, (grasping it and then wrestling it to the ground) makes the impossible, “I’M” possible, or if you prefer it less cutesy… the impossible becomes possible.
Look for more posts on failure and developing contingencies, and creating powerful possibilities.
So, I was totally going to write something cute here, analogizing weather systems with making a big splash in the world. But heat and condensation and salt in the air, was just too damn complicated.
But I’ve been ruminating on and even studying folks in the world whom I respect, who have or are making big splashes in the world. While there are a great deal of variables and outside influences that can affect a person’s message and intent, there are a few basic elements that one can muster up internally to help give their message and intent some momentum to become a big splash.
- Recognize a problem or issue
- Become educated on it
- State educated opinion (or solution) on how to solve problem
- Refine the opinion/solution by stating in such a way that’s unique to your voice (this involves risk because you might look stupid, brash, or _Fill in the blank_ with any other negative connotation you’re afraid others might label you as)
- Consistency on follow through
- Willingness to be adaptable (and wrong)
Bullet #4 is where I’m most interested at the moment. Most people, including myself at times, are so damn afraid to be wrong or mislabeled; that they’re unwilling to state any kind of opinion that goes against traditionally held beliefs.
Many politicians (not naming names, that’s not the point of this) after a big televised debate find themselves scrutinized for this kind of behavior, that they “played it too safe.” They might even find that they can get elected this way—but reelection could be a difficult task, or more importantly, the long-term sustainable change needed on behalf of their constituents is unattainable.
Much of the friction a person will experience is when their solution or opinion is presented in a bold or innovative voice, uniquely their own.
Looking at them objectively as a movement and for purposes of “making a splash” —entire religions (again, not naming names) are based on a few people with bold messages presented in unique ways. Yes, there was friction (boy was there friction) but it was out of this friction where the longterm change occurred (objectively not labeling it as “good” or “bad” or anything else for the purposes of this exercise).
Practice expressing an opinion somewhere, anywhere—controlled groups on Facebook, get togethers with your school’s alum, Sunday dinner.
You’ll be refining your voice, which is so important for your longterm health and for the world (not an overstating that at all); you’ll be readying yourself to make that big splash; and you’ll be actively searching for solutions to important issues.
A list of several folks who have gone on to state an opinion consistently with their unique voice, thereby changing the world or even a little piece of it:
In the space where you give extra than what’s asked or required—that’s where true growth and achievement begins.
Most people who are going after the same or similar goal as you—whether it’s job-related, entrepreneurial, or even charitable—they won’t put in the same kind of effort you do. Within the space of “extra” you give yourself an advantage—you now have a more chances for trial an error to find the solution that works for you.
Recently I was brought in my an organization to give an extra few speeches above and beyond our already agreed to fee structure. On top of that it was for a group I had never presented to before—juvenile offenders in lockup. Though giving these extra speeches could proved exhausting due to my already tight schedule, I said “yes” because I like the organization and because these kids don’t have many people in their lives who’ve advocated for them.
Fast forward and after finishing up the speeches at the juvenile detention center, these kids “got” my message. Most, if not all were grateful for someone coming in to talk to them as human beings. And some shook my hand while others shared private wants and wishes for themselves.
Beyond the altruism and the great feeling I had giving my gifts to these kids, I also gained some insight and some things for myself. 1) It made me realize how much we need to advocate for everyone in society and not just the people who can yell the loudest (these kids are easily forgotten), 2) I made a contact and will more than likely get booked back at that center and the centers in the surrounding areas, 3) this is a population that I need and will be trying to reach all over the country—and another way to spread my message.
Because I gave extra, I got so much in return—new insights, new contacts, and perhaps even more bookings/more income.
Yes it’s tiring, yes you’re short on time, yes you’ve been burned before. Nevertheless, look for those little places where you can give a little extra… and you’ll soon find a huge payoff in a multitude of ways.
Inside: The Single Most Valuable Tool in the World … with Special Guests Kelly Wilson and James Earl Jones
One of the most difficult things to do in this world is for a person to explain themselves in an effective, efficient, and generous way so the listener comes away changed and realizes that there’s “something in it” for them as much as you do.
Poor communication and explanation are the seeds that germinate into war, divorce, a failed product launch, and even when good intentions can cause pain.
If you don’t understand it—your job, your book, your point—no one will.
First, there’s got to be a common thread between what you’re saying, the other person, and what you want them to understand. The sound of your voice, as charming and melodic as it is (I’m talking to you James Earl Jones); isn’t enough hold a person’s attention to listen with intent… well, unless you’re James Earl Jones.
Search for a starting point that’s going to make the person perk up their ears, whatever it is. Kelly Wilson describes what that moment was like when she had to explain something to her young son dealing with a disability. It’s brilliant, it marries the person and professional, and it’s HERE.
A) Keep it as brief as possible, B) remove the jargon, and C) give people the space to ask questions and understand on their own and in their own way.
It’s that last part “C” that’s truly the most difficult and for several reasons
1) Often when people ask questions there is something else, unsaid and affected by the person’s frame of reference, attached to the question: fear, mistrust; or even as simple as lack of vocabulary.
2) Part of what you’re doing when you’re giving people the space to ask questions and think things through—you’re also reading their body language and tone of voice for clues to help you explain yourself better or refine your message.
“I’m sensing by your tone of voice you might be skeptical.”
“I’m sensing by your arms crossed that you might be closed off to the idea.”
Then you get to ask why or go deeper on what you’re trying to expound upon. In some cases you won’t get another chance so A) you’ll learn to explain differently off the bat, or B) you can try again later in a different way, or C) you’ll learn that you need to learn more about the very thing you’re trying to explain
3) Helping people understand on their own and in their own way. This is something that people aren’t used to. If someone is in trouble or doesn’t understand, we want to fix the issue. But the problem is, we try to fix it in a way that makes sense to us, and not to the other person. You might find that it’s easier for you, for a variety of reasons to get to the highway using route A or the scenic route; but the other person might find using route B, the speedy route, is faster. Neither route is wrong for each respective person—each route leads to the highway—but give a person a route that makes little to no sense to them; and they may never get to the highway or worse, they’ll never try.
How do we give a person the space to understand on their own and in their own way? We listen both for verbal cues and for physical cues. Silence is great. People don’t often think well with a bunch of noise and demands on top of their thoughts. Asking questions is brilliant. “How can I help you understand this better?” “What part of this makes the least sense?” “Where did I lose you?”
The questions are great because you’re asking for instructions, you’re asking for permission from the other person rather than making demands (“no, you don’t get it, it’s like this” “listen to me explain it again”)—which is always a better way to approach a person.
If you want to sell that idea, make peace in the home, or help that person in crisis—try switching up or refining the way you explain yourself… but make it work for you in your own way. Take the words I wrote with a grain of salt, using the parts of it that work best for you (if any), while leaving the rest.
And yes, I’m aware of the irony that someone might read this and not understand it. And to you I ask, what part of this was difficult to understand and how can I explain it better?
Recycling isn’t only for the environmentally conscious do-gooder or your town’s sanitation department—it’s for the person strapped for time, energy, resources or ideas.
Recyclable (intangible) Items:
- A method that stopped working years ago
- An idea that at one point you had no time for
- A concept that, so far, has only made partial sense
There’s a good chance that within a new context, these recyclable items could serve an indispensable purpose for whatever it is your looking to do or achieve.
On a tangible level, think about the repurposing of clothing or home goods at a thrift or Goodwill store; a garage sale, or an antique shop. To take it to an extreme, yet cliched phrase—one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Why take all that time and energy to reinvent the wheel, when what you have is shiny plastic and all you’re truly looking to create is a hubcap?
So you’re not (entirely) happy about where you are with your career, your life, your family, your business, your fill-in-the-blank.
It’s a huge pain in the mild expletive. How and when are you—when am I—going to finally get there?
Bad news: I’m not really sure when things are going to finally change for you or me. The tarot card people and the Nostradamus society both kicked me out for not truly having “the gift.”
Good news: It’s a great sign that you’re frustrated and thinking about how and when things are going to change for you for the better.
Can you imagine if you thought to yourself, “things kinda suck right now,” and then thought, “screw it, I’ll just accept it as fate and be miserable.”
Hell no! Knowing that circumstances can be changed for the better in your life, being upset about it, and working to change those circumstances—that is living life, and a robust one at that.
There’s not a good book, play, film, or 13th century descriptive tapestry; that doesn’t have a story with a protagonist that wins or lives “happily ever after” without obstacles and push-back.
Get your sword out (be gentle with it), get your army together, and slay* that dragon.
*Slay it with mentors, friends, “I’m sorries,” market research, clever strategy, strategic alliances, and/or the discovery or invention of a new weapon you never knew existed.
Keep hustling and fighting through the frustration. You’re not where you want to be but you’re getting closer.
Recently I had some serious lower back pain for the second time ever and in less than one year. It was so bad I could barely walk and when I did my torso was at a 30 degree angle to the ground (it was a little funny to look at).
The first time I had the back pain, I was like “I’m about to turn thirty and I’m too young for this—it’ll never happen again.”
What I should have done the first time, was trace my steps back to find out how I got hurt. Then take notes every day I was in pain, figuring out what activities helped and what hurt. Finally I could have ventured to learn preventative measures against future back pain.
Days, months, and weeks are full of patterns that often repeat themselves. Instead of digging deep to create contingencies, crisis prevention plans, or damage control procedures—the idea that “this will never happen again so everything is all good” permeates.
Living in the moment is wonderful and a critical part of life; but planning for a future, whatever the outcome, is a must.
The good news is our primitive brains already know how to do this. You learned not to put your hand into an open flame, not to walk into moving traffic, and when to fight or fly.
But now it’s time to move past the primitive brain and take planning to a higher level—looking for patterns, refining the edges, and using the negative energy and processes against themselves. This is your Jedi training.
During a paid performance, the flying trapeze artist who flinches before she leaps is the flying trapeze artist who ends up breaking a leg (not in the good, show business way).
The way to avoid the hesitating flinch is… trust (duh, Josh).
The way to build the trust is rehearsal. Hundreds if not thousands of attempts to leap off of boards into the arms of a partner or the bar of a trapeze, several stories above the ground with a net underneath.
Back to trust. Know that the infrastructure you set up for yourself and the weeks you spent on rehearsal and preparation are good enough. Trust that your muscle memory is strong and the neuropaths within your brain are prepared for numerous outcomes.
Don’t flinch… go all in. Put away the technique from rehearsal and act in the present (not the future of “what might be” or the past of “what was”).