As today is International Men’s Day, I wanted to raise the subject of anti-men campaigns, more of this later. In recent social changes the operative word is division. Division of countries, of nations, communities, and gender. As I grew up in safer times when there was no crime on the streets as is at the present level, no road rage, no constant lookout for anything by which to be offended, when you would give up your seat without a second thought to those who needed to sit down, and help with bags/pushchair/luggage when you saw anyone struggling, when you would protect children and old people as a matter of inherent decency, when you didn’t need to look over your shoulder in fear of more and more inventive scammers, and when you could sleep soundly at night, I feel that those who still remember those times should all speak up.
Lately, there has been an additional movement dedicated to presenting men, often ‘all men’ as monsters. As a woman I met with many men and indeed women, who would not be on my Christmas card list. But I also met many men that are or were outstanding role models of what being a human being means. As an eleven-year old I discovered the classics. The words of Seneca, Cicero and Marcus Aurelius had a profound and lifelong impact on me: ‘Free people tell the truth, only slaves lie’, ‘A room without books is like a body without a soul’, ‘If you have a garden and a library, you have everything’, ‘He who plants a garden, plants happiness’, just a few of many on which I have based my life philosophy.
As I had empathy with nature and animals from a very early age, my interest in the life and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi was a natural progression. His preaching to the birds and his friendship with wolves and other animals were fascinating and proof that my unusual love for animals was not an oddity as I was often told by adults. I learned from this man that – ‘If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.’
‘They can conquer who believe they can’ was the mantra of a man who saved the lives of many children maimed by mines left across the agricultural fields after the end of World War II by the German and Russian armies in Poland. This man, a doctor, set up the first rehabilitation hospital and school in Europe. The children, all from poor agricultural backgrounds, were not only treated medically but also were given an outstanding, all-round education to enable them to have a successful, professional future in society. The alternative would have been weaving baskets by the side of the road in their villages. The above mantra was instrumental in teaching children who were missing either leg(s) or arm(s) to walk, swim, do all sports and learn from the best teachers. The children loved the doctor, some called him Father, and fifty years on, one wrote his biography, and another raised funds to create a bronze plaque with his bust to be placed in the entrance hall of the still-working rehabilitation hospital. This mantra shaped my life too, as the doctor was my father.
I have also learned from him that if you had two arms and two legs you didn’t need any help, you just got on with life and thought yourself lucky. One day I saw my father with a group of nurses watching a girl of eleven being given her first prosthetic legs. She had lost both her legs above the knee at ten years old. This was happening in a wide, white and sunny corridor. As I watched quietly (I shouldn’t have been there) behind the adults, the girl took one faltering step and fell down. The nurses rushed forward but were stopped by the commanding voice of my father: ‘Let her get up by herself. It will take 20 minutes the first time, and we will wait. Next time it will be 15 minutes. Then 10 minutes. After that she won’t be falling down.’ He was right. This girl walked later without any , artificial support, rode a bicycle and learned to dance. She adored my father. And I learned the power of perseverance, and not giving up whatever the challenges.
One of the children saved and deeply influenced by my father grew up to become a financial director of a shipping conglomerate and his gratitude for being given a fulfilling, prosperous and interesting life never waned. On retirement, he become head of a maritime society devoted to renovating ancient lighthouses. He also established a gallery and a shop for those with disabilities and creative talent, providing them with a platform to exhibit and sell their work. He was working unwittingly according to another classical (Seneca) mantra: ‘Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.’
Many people are saved each year by the volunteering sea rescue crews. There are others who help those who are stranded on the wintry mountains. The river rescue crew in London has saved the lives of many who had accidents on the Thames. These are a few examples of scores of inspiring men, as well as many women, just to mention Marie Curie and Florence Nightingale, if one wished to look for a role model among women.
And here is my point: if women have to work in an environment that is known as sexually harassing, they need to develop verbal skills to politely refrain from accepting invitations to hotels, bedrooms, dinners etc. Complaining years later makes us all look silly and weak. Yes, there are male predators, rapists, paedophiles and murderers, but the vast majority of men are hard-working and supportive, given half a chance. By constantly complaining and denigrating men, we risk making our own and our children’s lives unhappy. Could we not cultivate kindness instead?