5 min read

Authenticity and the problem with men

The problem with men rarely leaves the headlines. James Ray looks beyond, seeking one potential solution - authenticity. Part of the Problem with Men series.

James leads the XTREME CHARACTER CHALLENGE movement, running adventurous wilderness pilgrimages. He is also a priest in the church of England and a skilled leadership development consultant. 

Three men wearing pink, spotty and yellow face masks stand in the street.
Chris Curry on Unsplash.

Masculinity is under scrutiny like never before. Knowing and living out what it means to be a man is a cultural challenge, a generational responsibility and a personal mission. Yet so much of the talk about men comes from the mouths of those who are not living the example themselves.  

Take Caitlin Moran - the award-winning Journalist and feminist – for example. She too believes the masculine gender requires a reboot to assist what she calls 'the second half of feminism' and has offered insights of her own as to what might be required in this process. In her book What about Men? she highlights the side effect of so much energy being devoted to finding solutions to girls’ problems being a vacuum for contemporary men. A disaster for all.

The stats to support this are alarming. You may be aware that when compared to girls, educationally boys are falling behind and more boys are excluded from schools. We know that most jails are populated by men. Homelessness is mostly a male issue. Addiction (alcohol, drugs, porn) is a hugely male concern. Perhaps most alarmingly, suicide is the leading cause of death of males under fifty. Men are FOUR TIMES more likely to lose their lives to suicide. Nick Fletcher MP knows all this and has recently called for a Minister for Men to avert this masculinity crisis….. A Minister for Men! 

The problem with men is one men must also be active in solving. 

However, whilst Moran claims to have the wellbeing of men in sharp focus, the very fact that she is setting out the blueprint for the issue and offering some solutions is, in itself, an offence to many – especially some men – who have suggested she isn’t the person to lead the charge. They imagine the shoe on the other foot: a man telling women what their problems are and how to deal with them. We have been there (for too many years) and we don’t want to go back. No: the problem with men is one men must also be active in solving. 

And some men are.  

In his book, Of Boys and Men, Richard Reeves highlights many of the same issues as Moran offering statistical and empirical data to support his claims. He is dedicated to the issue and recently founded the American Institute for Boys and Men to help address the urgent need in research and policy making. But it was also through his research that Reeves noted that, in order to change, men need to be taught how to be men. Masculinity needs to be created, unlike femininity which happens often as an impulse response, masculinity is more often developed through such moments as a rite of passage or is passed down father to son (master to apprentice, Jedi to Padawan).  

This all seems to make sense, and perhaps we could just stop there – with the instruction for men to teach other men how to man. But the problem is deeper than that because many men are incapable of teaching others for the inescapable reason that they just haven’t learnt themselves. Their own version of masculinity has been warped by selfish impulses, or after generations of poor role models, as well as a breakdown in communities and shared values. The adage ‘you can’t teach what you don’t know’ has never rung more true.  Add to this the fact that you might not know anyone to teach and the problem deepens…..Meanwhile, the masculinity crisis rages on.  

At the same time, men are also increasingly isolated, so much so there are many who claim men are in a friendship recession.  

Max Dickens reflects on his own experiences of loneliness in his book Billy No Mates .  Dickens was planning his wedding when his suddenly occurred to him that he couldn’t select a best man….because he had no mates! But before you men reading this think ‘how pathetic’, ask yourself, how many close friends do you have? Who would you ask to be your best man? How well does that guy know you? Apparently, you are increasingly unique if you have more than three very close friends.  

Men are lonely. 

So, it seems 50% of the population are in real trouble. But there is hope. Having spent thousands of hours discussing these issues with thousands of men I think we have found a path. It is a narrow route suspended between extremes. It’s the way of purpose, balance and responsibility. It is wide enough to contain all men but narrow enough to be individual to each man. It is the way of the Authentic Man. 

Authenticity is more closely linked to integrity. It means being who you say you are. It’s about the outside and the inside being aligned. 

Being “authentic” has sometimes been aligned to the idea that ‘this is me’, and ‘only I get to say exactly what that looks like’. ‘You just have to accept me as I am, including what I want to do and say, whether you like it or not’. But to me, that’s not being authentic, that’s more like a supercharged form of self-expression. Authenticity to me has a grander, more challenging mandate. Authenticity is more closely linked to integrity. It means being who you say you are. It’s about the outside and the inside being aligned. Another way to express it is that it’s the opposite of inauthentic – like not being fake. Someone who’s external image, reputation and appearance matches the life he is actually living behind closed doors. And here we start to see the Authentic Man emerge. In fact, when you look for him, you will find him everywhere. Because he isn’t just a self-construct, he is also a ‘we’ construct; he is challenged and mediated (and changed) by the needs and expectations of the wider world around him - of partners, family, community, faith and culture - and also by what is ultimately healthier and better for him and for us.  

Thus, the Authentic Man is a kind of ideal towards which I can point all men. And in that sense following (or even pursuing) the Authentic Man is about discovering truth. The truth of who you are but more importantly the truth of what you could become. Looking ahead at the Authentic Man and seeing what you could be. Perhaps what you should be. Sometimes the Authentic Man might be visible out there in front of us in someone else. Sometimes others might be able to glimpse the Authentic Man in us. But for all men, the Authentic Man represents this true ideal. A true guide, who can lead us beyond the pitfalls and mires into which we all have a tendency to fall, towards firmer, higher ground. Better ground. For us and for everyone around us. 

So, as we begin to take seriously again the question of what masculinity is, and what it looks like, and what it needs, I look to the Authentic Man and the authentic men in my life. Men who know their purpose and are grounded in responsibility: responsibility for our past, balance in our present and are taking responsibility for our future. 

So, What About (Authentic) Men? – you will see, they are on the move!

4 min read

This revolting rich list is a freak show

What are we to make of this quite nauseating spectacle?

George is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and an Anglican priest.

A collage of famous, rich, people such as King Charles, Elton John and others.
The Sunday Times.

General elections are no longer a clear choice between socialism and capitalism, but we should still be as offended by the privilege of the few over the poverty of many. That’s only natural, whether we’re informed by envy, a secular sense of fairness or a religious faith.

The yawning chasm between rich and poor in the UK is offensive. When PM Rishi Sunak was drenched in his vale of tears this week outside Number 10, as he announced the general election, he was seeking a mandate to preside over this inequality, in which he so richly participates.

He stood there exactly three days after he and his wife waved from the pages of the Sunday Times Rich List, based on the newspaper’s “conservative estimates of the minimum wealth of Britain’s 350 richest people.”

The Sunaks stood at 245th on the list with a measly £651m. Just 20 years ago, when I was in business, that figure would have put them near the top. Some of my business contemporaries had even made the Rich List with just a few tens of millions.

Not anymore. Mere multimillionaires barely make the cut. The ever-widening gulf between the super-rich and the rest of us means that the top 165 of last Sunday’s list of 300 are now billionaires, compared with just 20 a quarter of a century ago, while the “bottom” of today’s heap struggle by as half-billionaires. 

It does make you wonder what the Sunday Times is doing with this revolting annual survey. It has become such an anachronism since it started in the Eighties, when greed was good and we worshipped Croesus impersonators.  

Every year, we’re invited to press our noses up against their plate-glass window and drool at a world that’s as alien as a pharaoh’s to the slaves building their pyramid. What do they want from us for this display of greed? Envy?   

Times (even on Sunday) have changed and the Rich List satirises itself. Look at the ads that support it. There’s one for a 122-metre yacht that can be chartered for three million euros a week. A few pages later there’s one for a Swiss clinic “for the treatment of mental health and issues of substance and behavioural dependency”. Could these ads be related?  

So what the Sunday Times is presenting is a kind of freak show. Roll up, roll up, see the people who are tax exiles from the planet. 

The Rich List is just for the British mega-rich. So no room here for Meta-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg or space-wingnut Elon Musk. But it’s nice to see at the top of the list, with just a couple of hundred million over the £37bn-mark, the Hinduja family, whose leading lights so publicly acquired British passports some years ago, with or without government help.  

And here’s Lakshmi Mittal (No. 8 with £15bn), who was recently accused of profiting from both sides of the Ukraine conflict, after a part-owned Indian company bought nearly £2.4bn of Russian oil since the start of the war. Which newspaper revealed this? Step forward the Sunday Times.  

And there’s vacuum magnate Sir James Dyson (No. 5 with £21bn) who backed Brexit and then moved his global HQ to Singapore. That’s the beauty of being so rich; you can escape the consequences of your own actions. 

Most of the list is what similarly might be called colourful. These cannot, by virtue of their economic separation, be normal people. So what the Sunday Times is presenting is a kind of freak show. Roll up, roll up, see the people who are tax exiles from the planet. 

Money is its own reward. But ultimately its power is empty. 

What are we to make of this quite nauseating spectacle? Sure. there is no virtue in poverty. But nor should there be a prosperity gospel, which holds that the righteous are financially rewarded, other than in the outer reaches of an American charismatic movement. 

Among the things that make us go “hmm” in this report is the attitude to life. Phones 4u founder John Caudwell (No. 109, £1.5bn) says “If I stopped I’d probably be desperately unhappy.” Hmm. New entrant to the list Graham King (No. 221=, £750m) made his fortune from public money contracts for accommodation for asylum seekers that inspectors have described as “decrepit” and is currently the subject of charges under the Housing Act 2004. Hmm. 

Cursed are the rich, for they shall lose touch with reality. That’s not a heretical rewrite of the Sermon on the Mount, with its “Blessed are...” Beatitudes. There are actually four lesser known woes in the Gospel of Luke: 

 “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” 

These woes aren’t about revenge. But they do speak to the consequences of extreme wealth – such as profiteering from desperately vulnerable people or working so hard you can’t think properly. 

Money is its own reward. But ultimately its power is empty. Today, the Sunday Times should be as ashamed of idolising it as those it lionises for making so much of it.