At a recent Christening I was reminded that an infant first learns to listen as a means of developing the capacity to speak. That we should be reminded as valuable practice at any stage of life!
Listening is a precious grace seemingly lost in an era predominated by digital communications “talking” at us, promoting impossible ideals of celebrity or terse text messages bereft of context or feeling.
Young men and elderly women appear most impacted. For want of someone to listen, in times of depression and desperation they may feel inclined to take their lives.
For young men, waves of assertive feminism have shifted known elements of the mobile of relationships, confusing and undermining their confidence. Women asserted the right to speak out, step up and take their rightful place in the world. Now women outnumber men 3-2 on campus; the global #metoo movement demanded women be listened to and believed. Mentoring, quotas and gender preference crashed through many glass ceilings. Yet all is not well for everyone.
In communities, including indigenous communities, the role of men has been confounded as women asserted their roles, no longer willing to be mere chattels.
Jordan Peterson’s podcasts which resonate with young men searching for resolution have proven worthy antidotes to the confusion. By taking up Peterson’s challenge to pick up responsibility for creating their own future, with due sensitivities, many pursue the pathway to confidence and self-assurance.
Once a month I participate in a meet-up group to discuss Peterson’s work. An eclectic variety of people attend to listen, discuss and share. Many are conversant with other authors of similar stature as Peterson and have listened to a wide variety of commentators on similar topics. Discussion is rich and informative, allowing all points of view to be heard as a basis for measuring one’s own. Close, attentive listening is essential to participation. Sure beats trying to engage with people of closed minds who are ever offended.
Other authors such as Richard Reeves, whose book Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do about It (Brookings Institution Press, 2022) similarly deplores the number of young adult male suicides resulting from too many wagging fingers and two few helping hands.
Peterson did not set out to become famous; merely to be of service to his students. He began podcasting his lectures to support learning. Popularity of the lectures quickly spread more broadly with the convergence of internet technology and latent needs of young men for a sound “father” advisory figure. Peterson’s podcasts provided a guide to self-identification and worth amongst a claustrophobic woke atmosphere that betrays truth, stifles debate and views them as “toxic males”.
Peterson emerged with models for mature masculinity at a time when previous hardy male roles from fireman to plumber dissipated. At the same time, men’s greater involvement in family care and responsibility softened the edges of former harsh role division. Many men are embracing the welcome change. Others feel sidelined, being disdained as white, male, toxic or supremist.
Pornographic depictions of relationships have not helped. Sadly, women are being killed in domestic violence at a rate of one a week in this country – the tip of an iceberg of irresolution of healthy masculinity in the context of changed values and expectations.
Yet in his conversations and podcasts, rich in history, philosophy, psychology and scripture, Peterson firmly and quietly asserts truth that young men (and others) can build upon. Each is challenged to own responsibility for changing the untenable in their lives to build their own future based on truth, which requires courage. No wonder he is brought to tears of empathy when relating how young men who have been without hope have approached him to express profound gratitude. His words saved their lives when they were dying to be listened to.
Elderly women living alone can experience just as much desperation, depression and be prone to suicide as young men. For young men challenges have been brought about by structural societal change as a result of more assertive feminism that confounds their role in life. Identity challenges for elderly women are the result of demographic changes that have extended life, inviting options though not solutions as they pass their use by date.
In little over 100 years, the term of life for many has extended from 50 years to 80-90 years. We are still trying to understand and adjust. Women are most likely to be alone at the end of life, either from divorce or widowhood. Capable women who have absorbed the slings and arrows of family vicissitudes are often still expected to do so in later years, even as they experience physical, social and financial diminishments.
In the broader society, those ignorant of history are prone to condemn people who had significant influence on the past. Statues are damaged or pulled down, books abolished and achievements tarnished based on some perceived flaw viewed by today’s values and ignorance of context (think Lincoln, Rhodes, Churchill, Captain Cook). Attempts appear aimed at denying history instead of generating a more promising future.
Little may be different in families. Parental actions taken decades earlier with best intentions tend to be judged harshly according to today’s standards. Misogyny prevails in that men are rarely confronted with a similar burden of responsibility for family history, which cannot be changed, any more than other imperfect people like Churchill and Lincoln.
Important, busy, powerful middle-aged children can be impatient and terse, given to texting as token communication, rather than phoning or paying a visit.
Even when an elderly woman alone happens to receive an occasional visits or calls from family (if they are lucky) she may be brow beaten. Without anyone to stand in her corner or affirm worth it can be a very damaging and depressing position to be in. No wonder so many wish to hasten the end of life.
Yet all it would take to change is acceptance of the elderly woman where she is at, an occasional patient visit or phone call to affirm interest and someone to listen as if the woman was worthy and human. Like kissing frogs, she may turn into a princess of gratitude and interest.
Where an elderly woman has been isolated and humiliated by people she has loved and reared, hurt is even harder to absorb. Yet, Peterson (and Jesus) advises to be grateful for the suffering as impetus to reach out to other families, people and groups who demonstrate greater respect and acceptance. Not easy to do when siblings and friends die at an increasing rate, leaving one ever more isolated and alone.
All credit to those who do as Peterson suggests, take responsibility for creating a positive future by actively reaching out to others and new interests. Technology now enables us to do so whatever our physical limitations. Be ever open to making new, younger friends and be interested in others, their lives and achievements.
They are a blessing who value their elderly as windows to past family history, providing context for today’s understanding, accepting their idiosyncrasies. Willingness to share life and interests of children and grandchildren is rich reward to the elderly for efforts over a lifetime. Families achieving mutual healthy respect and acceptance demonstrate a way to process the demographic change that leaves a cohort of elderly women dying to be listened to.