Connecting to Social Connections ~ Episode 59 ~ My Conversation with Tony McManus

Connecting to Social Connections 

Mark [0:00] I’d like to welcome Tony McManus to the Heart of Connection podcast.  Tony is a sought after speaker on many levels in the community for Beyondblue and RUOK across Southeast Australia. He was the first independent chairman of the headspace local consortium across 100 headspace centres across Australia. He then established the headspace Geelong fund.  He focuses on identifying strategic mutual benefits and win-win outcomes.  He’s also an active supporter of the establishment of the Lara and Community district bank. He operates a consulting service McManus Consulting Services.

www.mcmanusconsultingservices.com.au

https://www.linkedin.com/in/tony-mcmanus-48a19010/

A Passion to Social Connections

Mark [0:35] After selling his Lara based real estate business, Tony has been passionately being promoting Mental Health Solutions on Social Connections through mentoring and volunteering via his Facebook page – Grow 2 Connect after his brother Mick took his life.  A passion for helping others deal with mental health issues began and resulted in, among other things, successful lobbying of the Geelong and Hawthorn football clubs to play annually for the AFL Beyond Blue Cup.  As a vehicle to promote awareness and reduce stigma in the community about depression.  Welcome, Tony.

Tony [1:14] Thanks, Mark.  We’ve been threatening to catch up with each other for a while so nice to finally put positive thoughts into action.

Making time for Connection in our Busyness

Mark [1:23] Yeah, it takes a bit of time in the busyness of the world to have a connection.

Mark [1:28] So Tony, just by way of introduction is there anything I missed in your biographical that you could add to?

Tony [1:34] Maybe I might add that I’m working three days a week with the Geelong Community Foundation.   That nicely ties in with the work that I do in the space of social connection.  As a mental health solution because a lot of the organisations that we fund are the types of organizations that I could also point people in the direction of to do some volunteering.  So it’s quite a good synergy between what I do there for a job and also what I have is an interest on the side in terms of helping others through social connection.

Men’s Connections lost in the busyness

Mark [2:10] Men and connection.  Where do we start with men and the connections to Self, Others and ‘All That Is’ – how do you connect yourself?  What’s your process to connect to you and to connect to others?

Tony [2:26] I suppose in answering that I was probably initially part of the problem in this space of not having much awareness of self.  I was just too busy head down – bottom up at work, providing what’s the expression? ‘Bringing home the bacon’ and running a business.  There wasn’t too much awareness about me I think. Probably over a period of time, that led to the classic midlife crisis burning out.  All those kinds of things and getting through being in a pretty bad place you kind of do a lot of reflecting and is a lot more self-awareness now.

Connecting to more Balance in my Life

If I had my time over, I would have had a bit more balance.   So I’ve actually created a six-point template where I highlight the importance of self and my own journey has been to find a lot of stimulation, rebuilding self-esteem, motivation whatever you want to call it.  I did this by helping others.  So the best way to kind of extend or elaborate on that basic way of looking at things is to maybe try and do it in a social situation.  The old Rotary Club is as good an example as any in terms of a safe place. When I went through that period of time, I had a marriage breakup, I was essentially out of work.  All of my equity was tied up in a lawyer’s trust account.

Connecting to Social Community Organisations

It was no good period of time but going to Rotary once a week there’s that bit of purpose, structure, and something to do.   The particular thing that resonated with me was helping others locally as well as overseas.  So, it’s led to some great overseas trips, I’ve been to New Guinea three times.  Outback Australia helping other people on the land – the indigenous in remote areas.  It gives you this huge sense of perspective of or maybe I was inwardly reflecting on myself and feeling sorry for myself and I was navel-gazing.  Life is not so bad.  The kind of way if you continue to where you can help other people. That’s a good maintenance thing for yourself.

Mark [5:05] When you’re helping others coming from – When you’re connecting to others are you connecting to them from a heart level in help for others?   Are a lot of service organisations like the Rotary’s and Lions Club where are they coming from in terms of their desire to help each other?  Is it more of an intellectual level or more at a heart level would you describe?

Heart Connection at 1-on-1 level

Tony [5:38] I think the heart level connection comes out when you interact one-on-one with somebody in one way, shape or form.  In a group or a team situation, there is a collective comfort in being what I’d call a safe environment, which is how I would categorise the benefits of joining with the Rotary club at that point in time when I was struggling.   People are very accepting and almost by definition, the fact that there is a service club, they’re not the kind of people who might take advantage of you when you’re vulnerable.  So, there’s an element of the group of people who whatever the organisation is, it could be a football club.  It could be just a really good example recently it has set up in Geelong recently a thing called the Man Walk down at Eastern beach.  So there is a collective, almost technical term ‘warm fuzzy feeling’ about being involved with other like-minded people.   I believe the real heart thing comes when you take that four of people you with and one-on-one engage with someone, that’s it most powerful thing.

What is Preventing Men’s Connections?

Mark [7:02] From a male’s perspective, what has been stopping men from connecting at a heart level to themselves and to each other?

Tony [7:13] I’d say long term conditioning, not to show your emotions.   That’s weak or it’s the classic expression – kids don’t act like a girl.  Whereas, I think in the past, there’s a correlation between being vulnerable and showing emotions is a female thing.   What I’m really aware of not very happy to see in recent times is the expression of the ‘vulnerable leader’  –  sometimes leaders in business will open up and share some of the things that are going on whether it’s personally or at home.  It just helps their team members to look at them differently.  Engage with them and realise he or she’s not just a tough old boss.   There is a softer side or human side to that person who’s one or two rungs above you in the workplace or whatever the other organisation is.

Connecting to our Vulnerability is not a Weakness

Mark [8:18] That changed for men to recognise and start to reframe the fact that vulnerability is not a weakness.  Our vulnerabilities an essential part of being human.   As men are coming into more acceptance and owning their vulnerability could that then improve their connections to themselves, others and ‘All That Is”?

Tony [8:39] I would think so because you probably opening yourself up to who you really are and what you’re really about.  Rather than repressing a certain part of your being and keeping it – not sure how to describe it keeping under lock and key.  It’s kind of opening you up to the person who you are.   It’s a very positive thing to unpack and enjoy.   I don’t think there are enough males out there, get that.   I think the whole thing can be dumbed down a bit in terms of – how simple it is.

Not keeping our Vulnerability under Lock & Key

One of the things I do, is I get involved with the program called L to P.  So, that’s where learner driver to probationary driver.  We help them kids whose families don’t get involved or don’t have a car. Or parents that don’t drive and we help that child to get their license (P plates).   It is such a simple thing that does, I must admit was a bit scary hopping in the car as a tutor for a stranger.  I have done that before with my two daughters years ago.  After the first lesson or two you figure each other out and what their skills are.  Importantly you get to know the personality.   If you’re driving for two or three hours at a time, the conversation happens.  It’s been an indirect way of mentoring I found by being the tutor of a learner driver.

Being Okay with Our Vulnerability can Guide other Men

Mark [10:25] As you’re driving with them over that period of time, how much of yourself do you have to show vulnerability to help other young men learn that it’s okay to share their vulnerability?  Rather than bottle all that sort of stuff up. Because the stuff in the vulnerability that they’re bottling up is their emotional health.  This can underpin a lot of their mental health?

Tony [10:51] Yeah, I was talking to a fellow mentoring at the moment.  It’s easy to share some of your own experiences, to help.   What he might have been describing to me as a situation.  I can relate to that.  I went through a similar issue at school or first out of work.  So it’s a good thing for them to be aware that you can relate to what they’re saying.   It gets back to that really basic thing of – if someone is opening up and talking I think it’s a bit of a privilege.  So you’ve got to encourage that and if you can share some of your experiences it becomes a two-way conversation.   Sometimes there might be something on or dwelling on or thinking about.  You can be surprised what comes back from a kid to you – clarifying and it’s not all one-way traffic if I can put it that way.

Men Learning to Navigate our Emotional (Brain) Health

Mark [11:56] The RUOK and Headspace, they’ve come about because of a lot of mental health issues.  Emotional health can underpin a lot of mental health issues.  By enabling men and giving them new social conditioning to learn to navigate the emotional landscape of their vulnerability.  Do you think – do you believe that will help them in the long term?  In terms of suicide rates when they’re not coping instead of bottling everything up.  Dropping in and learning to navigate that emotional landscape of the vulnerability.  It ain’t – part of the vulnerability is a really beautiful place.  Part of that vulnerability is all the pain that’s in there?

Connecting to the Emotional Pain in our Vulnerability

Tony [12:45] Yeah, it can be confronting to deal with initially but once you get into the routine of my every time you share it I think you’re halving a problem.  It’s quite interesting the attendance at Headspace.  On balance that should be 50-50 between males and females.  The reality is it’s about a third male and two-thirds female.  So there’s still some kind of reluctance to engage and access services like that.  Headspace looks after people who are 12 to 25.  So it’s a pretty important impressionable period of time to be getting help.

Teaching Young to Traverse our Emotional Vulnerability

I think that’s why I become so passionate about supporting it because I like the idea of intervening as an early age dealing with stuff so it doesn’t fester.   and become a chronic thing a life of wife love the idea how simple IOK is in terms of its messaging, and probably the biggest message is not to just have the annual focus on it, okay, die, but to try and have that in the back of your mind to make every day and I okay, the

Mark [13:58] That connection you’re talking about and wonder whether men are struggling to manifest that appropriate connection in relationships with their partners.   Because we haven’t got the sort of the perhaps – skill set to navigate that connection level.  A lot of the connection whilst we can intellectually connect we can logically connect.  Emotions and love and feelings are very much at a nonverbal level and because we haven’t been necessarily trained or educated or socially conditioned to-to have the empathy to develop the empathy with what that emotional energetic connection means, and wonder whether we men are we’re a product of?

Men’s Social Conditioning a product of old Toxic Masculinity

Tony [14:49] I think we’re a product of the environment that we have been brought up in, that has a big impact.

Mark [14:57] The terminology for some of that environment – is the terminology for that is the year we’ve been socially conditioned under pretty toxic masculinity back in the day.  We’re emotional beings till about five years old and if we kept showing emotion by crying it was I’ll give you something to cry about a boy.  This was the old message.  I’m wondering where that message, whilst it’s changing is its ethos still out there in the social conditioning for young men traveling through their self-development.

Changed Family Status impacts our Role Modelling

Tony [15:33] Well I think there’s a lot of single-parent families out there that nowadays.  There’s kind of one or other parent missing.  So it’s not – it’s getting a slanted view of relationships if Mums missing or Dad’s missing from a relationship.   The stereotypes probably more Mum becomes both parents.  If Dad’s not around it can be hard.  The fellow who is mentoring through the L-2-T program his Dads in New Zealand so he’s not on the scene nowadays.  At least I’m some kind of role model for him at this point in time.  I encourage you to take advantage of it and just talk to me about anything.  He’s amazing about what he opens up about with a bit of bullying at school because he’s a Pacific Islander.  Some of that was racist based.  He’s had to do some pretty tough stuff but he’s just such a balanced kid because I think its part of things he’s talking about.

Men’s Connections in ‘Doing’ Based Communities

Mark [15:47] In terms of connections to others –  I wonder whether a lot of men’s connections to others is actually in sporting organizations, football clubs and scouting movements the doing things.  Doing communities like working on cars (e.g., racing cars) all those sorts of club based organizations.  I wonder whether that’s the main focus where men connect to other men through those sorts of organizations?

Tony [17:24] In general all those organizations are good.  I have a bit of concern for people who don’t engage in those kinds of groups.  So for one of a better description, you might – call a young person geek, who was stuck in their bedroom, there online all the time playing games, whatever.   They’re the ones who are missing out on that social connection through a footy club or a car club or some of the other ones who we were discussing that concerns me a bit.  It doesn’t always work like as I’ve seen a lot of RSL clubs that are not helping deal with issues.

Reframing Old Social Sterotype Conditioning

Mark [18:28] Is that a bit of an old schoolboy type, still part of the old traditional social conditioning that men hold?

Tony [18:36] I think the perspective that I picked up is that a lot of the World War Two diggers didn’t think Vietnam was a real war or Korea, Peacekeepers.   They were not given the respect that they deserve from having been exposed to issues in battlefields.  They’ve all got post-traumatic stress from the experiences but that lack of embracing the next generation coming through. It’s been hard for them.

Men’s Positive Connections in Community Groups

Mark [19:11] The positive side for men connecting with football clubs, in community groups.  What do you what have you noticed about men when they are well engaged in football clubs and community groups?  What do you notice happens to their well-being and their sense of self?

Tony [19:28] Again, it’s that fundamental social connection. They’re combing with others who have similar interests and have you have fun.  I think the ones that really do it well are the ones that not only – say play footy on the weekend, but maybe do a bit of work in the community too.  I noticed a really good example of this recently was some friends of mine lost their son-in-law to spinal cancer I think it was.  It had aggressively spread and three days before he died they had a bash for him at the Anakie football club.

Social Cohesion in Community Group Connections

I saw a great thing organized but not just a football club but a local community out at Anakie recently where I’m a young fella lost his life tragically too early to aggressive cancer.  His wife into three kids was really well looked after by the local community.  Three days before he died, they had what they called the ‘Big Bash’ for him and that sense of love and embracing support in here from pulling up the sleeves and getting together.

Tony [20:43] At the footy ground was sensational.   One comment I heard afterward was a person who used to play footy out there – said they never had crowds like that when we’re playing football. There’s just a massive crowd to support an individual who was only having days left to live to support his family.  So the clubs can probably do it a bit more because they’ve got the facility and they’ve got the means of getting people together.   From a mental health perspective, a lot of clubs do really well with welfare officers. There’s an organization in Geelong called ‘Read the Play’ who provides mental health awareness via football and netball clubs to a 16-year-old side.   The football club is the forum or the pipeline to the community to spread valuable information like that.

Losing Connections in Men’s quest to be a Provider

Mark [21:47] Once men turn the age where they no longer able to play the game.  They leave the community the connection of the community.  Could that be a difficult time for them because there are that loss and grief, that Successsense of community, that sense of connectedness to the community and what do they then put in place once they have their families?   Men are notorious for getting into that, “I’ve got to provide once I have a family.”  What do they put in place for that connection to themselves and others?

Tony [22:26] It’s a really good observation.   There’s a little bit of focus on that that the AFL level.  We see too many footballers who are totally lost in a period of time after AFL.  Brian Lake is not a bad example recently.  I saw in the country Football League I was up at a town on the Murray River not so long ago.  I heard a story about the bloke who was the full forward and use to kick it a hundred goals every year.  I think he was getting into his 40’s and he just couldn’t do it anymore.  He’d lost his purpose, he’s almost like the expression ‘relevance deprivation.’  No longer the leading goalkicker what is he going to do with himself.

Dealing with Loss & Grief of Community Connections

I think that kind of evolves a bit where if you don’t have a bit of balance.  All of a sudden if something dries up – you haven’t got the other things in your life to soften the blow.  We need to help you with the transition from football in that case to life after football.  There are some pretty good examples around Geelong of players who have transitioned well.  I was always fond of Andrew Bews.  I had a chat with him a while ago and he dabbled in this dabble than that.   Eventually, he’s really found something he’s passionate about with his gym and it kind of ties in with his old fitness and footy days.  He loves it and you can see his enthusiasm and energy whereas the other stuff he may have not been so enthusiastic.

 

Serenity in Bonny Doon ~ Man’s Version of Mindfulness

Mark [24:02] One of the things I’ve been noticing in the conversations – in this Heart of Connection conversations.  As we progress talking about connection to self, connection to others and then we move into the connection to ‘All That Is.’ When I’m trying to explain the ‘All That Is’ to men – it’s the serenity in Bonny Doon. It’s those “Aha moments” – where physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, everything lines up.  I’m wondering whether for men – they’re ‘All That Is’ in their outdoor pursuits like fishing, going hunting, you know they’re out in nature, surfing.  A number of times as an amateur surfer once and you sit at the back and guys would say – “surfing it cleanses my soul” and it’s like, a real release, a real connection for them to be able to release everything just to let go for that momentary moment.  Which in a form, is a form of mindfulness.  I wonder whether we are doing enough as a community to embrace that process of mindfulness to enable men to connect to their serenity in Bonny Doon, whatever that is for them?

Mindfulness expressed in Plain English

Tony [25:17] Yeah, I think it’s still a fairly obscure abstract concept to a lot of people.   I think females get a lot better than guys.  I must confess to having one daughter who’s a psychologist, and the other one is the editor of health and well-being magazine.  So I get pounded with it.   It’s rubbing off and I’m developing more of an appreciation of the simple stuff and just stopping.  Listening, observing and nature is a good way to do that.  You can combine that hopefully as part of your weekly routine with just it. It could be simple.

Mindfulness ~ ‘Simply Being at the Back of the Boat’

Mark [26:07] It’s interesting that mindfulness. There is a lot of talk around and a movement towards it.  One of the simple measures – not that we can always be out on about fishing.  The concept that when there out on a boat – the minds going back to land and lands over there.   I share to guys well when your minds going back to land you are not on land you’re on the boat.  Why don’t you go down to the back of the boat, pick up the rod and just touch the line and connect to that line and reel it in?  That’s a single point of concentration and in that concentration, the mind that’s back on the land comes back to the back of the boat and that concentration.   A lot of people talk about that when they’re in that space of the ‘All That Is’ there is no mental health.  They’re really well connected to, to whatever it is in that moment, be it nature just being present just at that moment at the back of the boat.   They do notice a shift in their mindsets, they do notice a shift in the energy and their connection to themselves.  It’s a very powerful connection. How do we learn to re-anchor back there and that takes practice?   I’m wondering, how can we get that message out to men instead of always doing – stop, breathe and just be present with yourself?  Just for this moment?

Experience of Connecting in Nature ~ Beyond Blue new Package

Tony [27:45] I can probably give you a little heads up on something that’s going to be released by Beyond Blue soon. It’s promoting package tour to a place called El Questro up in the Kimberley region just near Kununurra in Western Australia.  I had the opportunity to go up there recently and just explore where these packages would be.   It’s exactly what you’re talking about there.  Where you are totally switched off.  You forgot the city, you forgot the pace of life.  You were just there, it’s isolated it’s beautiful.

Connection to ‘All That Is’ ~ a Reboot (Disconnect to Reconnect)

Tony [28:21] At one stage we were watching a sunset and then about the same time watching the moon rise.  Looking over a valley, a gorge, beautiful river it was just magnificent.   That was very much in the moment and we coined a bit of a phrase – there’s a bit of ‘disconnect to reconnect.’  It’s like, you know, rebooting something just unplugging.  A reboot clears all the fuzz and haze or whatever it is the issue.  Connect again and just clear, sharp, focus, relaxed it’s amazing.   There’s a lot of indigenous when they want to chill out they talk about wanting to get back to the country.   I think I very much appreciate that perspective more, being out there amongst the red dust and beautiful Boab trees, the sounds of nature.   When I was explaining that to one of my girls, she goes Dad, “you realise you’ve been mindful.”

Connecting to various Forms of Mindfulness

Mark [29:31] Mindfulness doesn’t have to be cross-legged sitting in the lotus position.  Mindfulness is just that momentary time where we stop, connect to yourself, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and try and let go.  One of the hardest parts of letting go is the intellectual, racy mind of us men.  I’m wondering whether we’ve overused that because we’re being taught at five years old to shut down your heart.  Don’t connect to that because that’s the soft part.  In our relationships with our partners, to others, the heart is one of the keys.  Importantly, the heart is an important key to ourselves.  How do we open instead of suppressing that?  How do we men start to work at an opening that space and share that safely?  There’s no shame about our vulnerability it is an essential key to our well-being.   Men like you and I were in the senior part of our lives now perhaps – how do we start making those noises, making those calls to encourage men, don’t lock away vulnerability.  Don’t close it down connect to it and learn to navigate its territory, because it’s an essential part of who we are.

Connecting & Giving New Message back to Younger Men

Tony [30:58] Yeah, I think it’s a good point.  Thanks for highlighting your aging years our greyness although I’m greyer than you.  I have a sense of urgency doing stuff that I’ve always wanted to do.  That bucket list thing. There isn’t worry but an element of there’s less time left than I’ve experienced in terms of living.   It’s not a problem and it’s just now is the opportunity to catch up on stuff that maybe I had neglected for myself in the past.  Hence, the phrase I often use when speaking – ‘self-first is not selfish’ because I’m just trying to do all the things I want to do, to be happy, healthy, complete and balanced.  If you’re traveling along in that space, you’ve got the capacity to help all those other things that you have responsibility or accountability for.  Like our relationships and your finances, your health, and health is very much mental as well as physical.  Traditionally, we probably focus more on physical health, not on our mental health and exercise.  What you’re doing your leisure time or what you do either in your workplace or if you’re students at school.  So it’s just a matter of balance, I think is a really important word to make all these things happen.  Nowadays when I make major decisions, I tend to tick all those points from our checklist we’re talking about.

Advice to younger men – choose a Mentor

Mark [32:35] Just mindful of time, and I want to try and keep the conversations to about 30 minutes for people in drive time.  Any further advice you’d give to a young person or a young male coming through about connection to self and connection to others, and his connection to ‘All That Is’?

Tony [32:53] I would encourage the young male to get a mentor.  I think traditionally kids don’t listen to parents, students don’t listen to teachers.  Employees pay lip service to what the boss assigned but that mentor that independent person whether you call that mentor, a life coach.  You kind of see it a little bit of in football clubs.  The coach sometimes is the mentor.  Just find that one person who you can comfortably share things with.  There’s a great organization I’ve seen recently started off called, ‘Gotcha For Life.’  All you have to do is find that one person who you can put everything on the table about.  It could be a two-way thing.  So get a mentor I think it would be really important.  People think how, why or who – they’re out there.  I think people would regard it as generally a compliment to be asked to be a mentor. It is not a lifetime contract it is only for as long as it feels good and it works for both parties.   Probably the best mentor I’ve had I’ve taught was a female.  It was intense for a while. Drifted apart and reconnected a bit lately.  It’s like the old friend who you may not see him for years.   When you do catch up it’s a very open conversation.

Mark [34:34] Tony, thank you for the opportunity to have you as a guest on the Heart Connection Podcast.  It’s lovely to be able to talk to men and about how do we open our hearts to begin to connect to Self, Others and “All That Is’ really appreciate your time.

Tony [34:49] Well thanks to the opportunity.  Keep up the good work, young man.

Mark [34:53] Thanks mate (laughter).  I like that one.

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