You hear it all the time, hell I used to say that exact phrase when talking to people who seem to always have some kind of issue. "Man up" isn't just about pulling up your bootstraps and carrying forward despite any obstacles, it has come to mean suppressing emotions, fears and depression. It symbolizes a kind of toxic masculinity where we revere the silent type who never reveal their pain or ask for help. We tell young boys to stop crying because it's weak, we tell them to control their emotions because a man is quiet and keeps such things to himself. When I was growing up we never were explicitly told to bottle up our feelings but the slurs that would rain down on anyone showing the slightest weakness made clear the path we were to take. I cannot imagine the pain caused for those who are gay, questioning their sexuality or place in the world when we were growing up as the words and actions of those afraid to express themselves would manifest in severe bullying, even assault. To protect at all cost your rep as a man was paramount and no one wanted to be seen as a sissy or worse. Being different meant an exile from the social world of our youth and we learned to keep our feelings to ourselves, putting up a front of toughness to the outside world.
I have definitely noticed a shift in how we teach young men to deal with their emotions and mental health issues. Even coming from a generation where we were taught to keep it inside, I see an opening up in the channels of communication and that is good. But society and culture are sometimes slow to react and every time I see or hear the phrase "Man up", I cringe and want to ask the person just what they mean. Do they want the guy to ignore his mental or physical problems? To bottle up whatever he is feeling and conform to some out dated notion of what it takes to be a man? It isn't enough anymore to be silent in the face of increasing societal pressures and changing norms, we have to do better. Teaching young men that it is okay to show weakness and ask for help would go a long way to addressing the bigger issues facing us today. The rise in suicides, substance abuse and lashing out in an attempt to escape from or numb their internal pain means we aren't doing a good enough job of reaching out either. It is more than being good role models and showing the next generations how we can be better men, it is about communicating to them that we are supporting them as they grow and learn.
We have to be the beacon on the hill for our fathers, sons, nephews, brothers and friends when it comes to mental and physical health. To take down the "Man up" crowd means we have to show vulnerability in asking for help when we need it and creating a place in our lives where we reach out to them when we see they need a hand. Not everyone who needs help will ask for it and I say putting the onus on those who are secretly hurting to come forward to seek help is simply ignoring a problem and hoping it will go away. If you care about someone and see they are hurting, sometimes it is going to take a little effort on your part to get them the help they need. And to those of us who let pride get in the way of seeking help I say the time has come to admit we can't do it all, we have doubts and fears and need a shoulder to lean on every once and a while. I don't want to create a society of dependence but the silent screams of millions of men who just wish they could talk about things that are bringing them down and causing them pain and the needless deaths that result from that have to stop. "Man up" means internalizing your thoughts, feelings and doubts and the end result is the perpetuating of a culture where our sons and nephews continue the cycle. We can break the chains to a past that doesn't exist anymore and create a world where we feel safe and secure in expressing ourselves without fear of losing face or the respect of our peers.
It is on us to show the way and lend a hand up to anyone we can. Being a man is more than being tough, it is about doing what is right and knowing when you need help yourself. To affect change we have to start somewhere and removing the phrase "man up" is a small and subtle change to broaden the tent and bring everyone closer to the help they need without marginalizing their mental or physical health needs.
So let's try to do something, because doing nothing isn't an option anymore and we have to end the senseless deaths of our brothers. Every time a man hits the bottom of his resolve, the answer shouldn't be "man up", it should be the hand of a friend helping him to his feet and lending ongoing, positive support. I have come a long way since last November, seeking help for my own problems and trying to be an active friend for those around me when I see something is amiss. To truly change we have to acknowledge where we are coming from and where we want to be, the young men we are raising to go out in the world need to know that they are allowed to have feelings, doubts and fears. But we also have to show them that by opening up and addressing those problems, we are getting stronger, not weaker. Let's end the culture where our silence is killing those we love and leaving us a little emptier inside.
I will be shaving away my goatee again this year and I hope you will join me (in reality or in spirit) in helping to end the stigma surrounding men asking for help when they need it. Let's work together to make sure the future is a place where everyone can find happiness and joy with their life.
You can follow along on my Mo Space page at Drunk Polkaroo , donate and help us change the world for the better.