James, you’ve identified a crisis in masculinity. What’s going on?
In recent years, there’s been a huge rise in male suicide. This is a very complex issue, but I believe it’s related to men not being able to express themselves. It’s important men are able to speak without shame and embarrassment – and with confidence. Right now, I think men’s self-esteem is being called into question and that’s dangerous. Like feminity, masculinity has a place in our society and we abandon it at our peril.
And are we in danger of abandoning it?
Unfortunately, masculinity has been under attack recently – just think of the discussions around toxic masculinity and patriarchal tyranny. It’s become an easy target, but there are some elements of traditional masculinity that can actually help us through difficult times. I’m thinking of resilience, strength and stoicism. These are qualities that have been very useful for keeping men on an even keel over the centuries, so I don’t think we should reject them out of hand. If we start to embrace our vulnerability a little bit too much, we may find it weakens us.
So there’s a balance to be struck?
Yes. I’m not saying we should be bottling up our emotions like we used to because I think we’ve been very constipated over the years, but going in completely the opposite direction is not the right way either. For a long time, when I used to think of my father, I thought, god, he was so uptight and repressed. Now I realise everything he did came from a benign place. He was from a post-war generation that was always looking out for other people, that didn’t want to impose themselves on other people. They were right: letting it all hang out can be an imposition on other people. So, yes, it’s about finding a balance.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
Over the last few years there have been many, many books about finding happiness and I’ve always found them a bit platitudinous. They’re full of easy answers, saying just do this and this, and you’ll be happy. I wanted to take things a little deeper and look at what fulfils us, not just what makes us happy – because I believe happiness is a result of leading a fulfilled, purposeful and meaningful life. I also noticed a lot of these books are aimed at women. That’s not to say my book is aimed solely at men. I hope it’s a book that goes beyond trite ideas and that anyone can learn from. I hope it’s a life guide that anyone can follow, that’s concise and easy to use, but raises profound questions and answers.