The Malta Independent 15 April 2021, Thursday

‘You’re stronger when you’re vulnerable’ - Man Up: encouraging men to communicate and connect

Karl Azzopardi Sunday, 29 November 2020, 10:45 Last update: about 6 months ago

It is quite common to hear about men finding it difficult to communicate their thoughts and feelings; be it because of the gender roles that have been ingrained in our societies for so long or the lack of spaces where men feel comfortable to have such conversations with each other. The accumulation of uncommunicated concerns unavoidably takes a toll on men’s mental health, leading to frustration and, potentially, hurtful coping mechanisms that can be a detriment for them and those around him. Karl Azzopardi spoke with psychotherapist and counsellor Matthew Bartolo and writer and influential figure Jon Mallia, who seek to break this vicious cycle through a men-only space that encourages men to be vulnerable by exploring the depths of their masculinity.

The aptly named Man Up project is starting off as a weekend-long camping event packed with various activities that strengthen both the mind and the body, directed by mentors who are looking to share their expertise and experiences while empowering other men to do the same.

What was the inspiration behind Man Up?

Jon: “I chose to be a part of Man Up for a number of reasons, one of them being the work I have done in prison and care homes. Here I could see how, the more society changes, the more difficult men find it to orient themselves in it. This then results in a lot of frustration and emotions that they may find difficult to control or direct in the right manner. Some may think that being courageous means not caring, and while there is some truth in this, it also takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable. Emotions are part and parcel with our own subjective experience of being human. This is what we would like to offer through this camp, for men to feel good about exposing themselves to other men.”

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Matthew: “When Jon approached me with this idea, we realised that we share the same philosophy and can work well together. We are both on a journey individually, and we want others to join us and go through their own journey alongside us. I believe a lot in mentors, be it an accountant to help you financially or a therapist to tend to your mental health. I believe in surrounding yourself with people who you can relate or look up to and who will help you get to your destination. There were things that I went through when I was young that always nudged me to look at love differently but always thanks to these mentors. So, the idea behind this camp is that we start to learn from each other’s experiences.”

Matthew Bartolo

 

What does this project mean to you personally?

Jon: “I had quite a colourful trajectory in getting to where I am today, and I was always looking for ways to control the chaos that lives inside me. I love that chaos, but the more it grows the less manageable it becomes which can cause problems. So, this camp for me is something which I wish was available back then for myself and others I have met along the way. I hope that this is something that I will carry with me and keep working on in the future.”

Matthew: “Finding a friend in someone with a similar world view like Jon is already helping me personally, but this project has also exposed me to other men who are successful in their specified fields and feel the need to share their experiences for the sake of this project; even though it has not even started officially yet!”

Jon Mallia

 

Who is this camp for?

Matthew: “It will be specifically for men and we have made it this way so that we create a man-only space where men do not feel some sort of pressure to impress or act differently because women are present, but rather focus on getting more in touch with their masculinity.

When we were planning this project, we had different types of men in mind, such as those who are doing well in certain areas of their life but wish to better themselves in a specific field and expand their social network in that regard. This could range from improving physical health or mental health to financial stability or even relationships. From the response we have received we seem to have managed to do this.

The idea of Man Up is that you are stronger when you are vulnerable as it allows you to open up to others who are on the same wavelength and who can help you grow in those areas you seek to improve in.  

This is an experiment. We know of woman-only spaces which are working as I have been told by women themselves that they feel more comfortable speaking about certain issues in that environment. So, now we will see what it would be like for men.”

What does the camp consist of?

Jon: “This is a two-day long camp where we meet early in the morning, sleep there and have two full days of varying activities. This includes physical training with former member of the US navy John Spartan and survival skills training with a Maltese army veteran who are both well-equipped in these fields. There will also be mindfulness whiskey sessions, morning meditation and cooking sessions, as well as other activities which participants will discover when they come to the camp.

Having said that, there are two things that I would like to underline. Firstly, if you are coming to the camp, be ready to put in the work; we will have fun too, but I do not think that work and fun should ever be considered as separate.

Secondly, we will provide a questionnaire prior to the camp through which participants explain their intentions and also physical capabilities. So, despite John Spartan being a beast in physical exercise, the point is not about pushing participants to the limit but to help them feel strong and accomplished which is a feeling that cannot be matched.”

How long are you planning to keep the project up for?

Matthew: “When we first thought of the idea, we were surprised with the response that we received from other men who wish to share their resources with others. For example, there are men who own businesses and are offering to pay for other men who might not be able to attend the camp for financial reasons, just because they know that they can learn from these individuals.

So, to answer your question, there are so many resources that we are aiming to create a both a physical and digital space where men can share them. We are already looking into a spot where men can meet on a weekly basis and I also see this evolving into an online forum.”

What message would you like to pass on to anyone who might want to participate in the camp but is holding back?

Matthew: “I feel like there is a pattern; there are those who go explore things immediately, others who need to see it being tested out a few times and then there are people who wait until something is well established before taking part in it. Our advice is for those who find themselves in the middle. I think that even the simple act of thinking about trying it out will already help you a lot as you are making it a point to change your pattern.”

Jon: “I agree with Matthew. One thing I would add is that courage is being vulnerable, and this might involve taking a step forward even if it is full of uncertainty.”

Anyone interested in participating can go on manupmalta.com to book a spot for upcoming camps and find more details about the program and its mentors.

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