Men are dying for lack of a word of encouragement

October 2, 2023

Ballywalter the place and the movie

Ballywalter is a seaside town in Northern Ireland and also the name of a recently released film. It is both tragic and heartwarming and one wonders if the characters will ever find any redemption. Set in the backdrop of  Northern Ireland’s miserable weather and gritty landscapes, it is a touching watch. A bit too sweary for my liking but absolutely worth it. Go see it.  

In Ballywalter, we see the best and worst of the irreverent Northern Irish temperament; Dark and acerbic but flickers of warmth force their way through. Watching this film - as an observer, I wonder how I survive in a culture like this. We “Norn Irish” really lack that ready upbeat optimism of the United States. If our souls were like bank accounts, there would be more withdrawals than deposits. Maybe it is a Scots-Irish Presbyterian thing, but in Northern Ireland we “don’t like to get ahead of our ourselves.” Why would you wish someone a nice day - when it might not prove to be? Or, why would you praise someone, only for them to let you down a week later? Culturally, we are wary of getting our hopes up and all too often we are tight-lipped with our praise. Technology is changing things for the younger generation, but we will always be careful in dealings with life.

Northern Ireland has the highest levels of suicide in the UK

Personally I find it unsurprising that Northern Ireland has the highest suicide rate in the UK and it is especially tough for men with figures showing 21.5 per 100,000 people. Measured globally, this would put us 38th worst in the world.

Our ‘wee country’ has all the same challenges as other declining western nations and many more. Waking up on a wet, cold, dark February morning is not an enticing prospect in some parts of Belfast or beyond. If you lose your purpose in life, surrounded by our bleak outlook and dark humour, I can imagine the will to live being a struggle.

Jordan Peterson, right again?

Jordan Peterson, who is often right on many things, said that, “young men are dying for lack of a word of encouragement”. I think he is 100% correct. There is much more to unpack but as a soundbite, it serves as a useful jumping off point.

When you live in a culture that really doesn’t like people getting “too big for their boots;” or where people take great pride in announcing, “I had to take him down a peg or two”. Some people, not all, struggle to get their engines fired up to take action. Of course, there will be those who act regardless, and may they enjoy success, but many will just accept their lot in life and believe nothing lies beyond, neither hope nor opportunity.

If we see a beautiful house on a hill, we think only certain people can live there. American’s will think anybody can live there, if they just work hard enough. Both views are valid, but at least our brethren in the US take a more positive spin and they will die trying. We in Northern Ireland probably just settle before we get started as the other crabs in the bucket pull us down.

Is there a better way?

One question I ask regularly:, are we condemned to low expectations forever? I believe if there is to be change; it starts with us. Men, as I have always said, are the engine room of a culture and we need to get better at launching our sons into orbit. This requires sacrifice and patience and we must get better at speaking the right words over them. To quote a recent twitter/X post by Micheal Foster co-author of It's Good to be a Man “Love paired with discipline produces great men”. I wonder, do we encourage our sons and grandsons enough to have higher expectations? Are we rearing great men or just men in our mould?

I actually remember the first time that my parents told me they were proud of me. I was about 14. It was on a sunny day at a school speech and prize day. (I didn’t win any prizes, but I had worked hard.) The memory of this sticks in my mind nearly 35 years later. This is what most of us really want, isn’t it? To make our parents proud. To know they think we have done a good job. I’m conscious there will be some reading this whose parents failed, utterly, in every regard to their upbringing but I’m sure there still lurks deep inside, a desire for validation - to be given the accolade “Well done good and faithful servant”. (Matt 25 v 23)

Carrot and stick

Girls get praise much easier - the entire edifice of modern society is set up to affirm them. I have a daughter and girls do respond well to praise. Boys need a firmer hand, but I wonder do we give too much stick and not enough carrot? Or worse, we just ignore them and think of them as broken girls.

I can only speak for my personality. For every 2 thumps, I get with the stick, I need a bit of carrot. I need to know that I’m on the right course. Is this a defect? - Some men would say so, but it is just how I’m built. I like the feedback to know that I’m excelling, so that I can put more energy in. My in-built protection system is that I won’t be prodded into any form of inauthenticity - you won’t get me to act in a sphere for very long that I’m not aligned with. If I get the nudging into my calling, it is like rocket fuel.

So while I enjoy receiving praise, I have noticed that beyond the family - I’m not very good at giving it. I think this stems from childhood insecurity. Previously, I didn't have confidence in my abilities and believed my praise was insignificant. But now, I consider myself a capable adult who has gone through tough situations. My testimony and praise counts for something and I’m working on giving it out further and wider. If it changes me and makes me walk 2 inches higher for a couple of hours or even days, who knows how it can change others for the better?

Where you see things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable and worthy of praise, not only should we think about these things, (Phil 4 v 8) but I say we ought to be highlighting them and encouraging people in doing more of them.  

So what does this mean?

Most people find it easier to criticise and tear down. Certainly in my life - I have had times when this is the default. As the Bible says:

“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6 v 45)

What comes out of your mouth reflects your own spiritual state. If you are a  Christian, there is a special message in here for you. Does the Holy Spirit not live within us? - Yet so often we allow the wrong stuff to come out of our mouths. We have a hope; if we cannot be joyful, optimistic and positive, what chance is there for anyone else?

We build our assurance on the firmest of foundations. This blog is called taking territory - as humans, we live in 3 zones - the mind, the body and spirit  - we need to take dominion for Christ in the mental and spiritual spheres as well as the physical. It is a war. At the moment of our salvation, there is an initial sanctification ( also called definitive sanctification) but then we have the duty to get to work on “progressive sanctification” through the power of the Holy Spirit. My message today is that we need to get the words of our mouth aligned with the Word of God.

Where you see things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable and worthy of praise, not only should we think about these things, (Phil 4 v 8) but I say we ought to be highlighting them and encouraging people in doing more of them.  

Let a light shine from us - let us encourage those around us, especially the men who truly are dying for the lack of a word of encouragement.

Words have power - use them wisely to extend the kingdom.

How to give praise and encouragement, easily

A tip for giving complement or praise

Break it down in 3 parts, but make it all flow together seamlessly.

1. Say what you like.

2. Say why you like it

3. Then, to avoid any embarrassment or a nervous reaction, ask a question around what you said.

“I like the way you handled that meeting. You really defused those tensions nicely. I wouldn’t have been able to do that. Did you already know about those problems in the engineering department?”

Photo: Ballywalter war memorial. Creative commons Flickr