Grumpy men

Recently, I couldn’t help but notice a glut of grumpy middle aged men come across my path.

They are grumpy, but it would be misleading to say that is all they are.

Once they get talking, several themes begin to emerge, themes that are common to all of them. At work these men endure a low level of unrelenting anxiety. They aren’t as driven as they used to be. They know it, and their boss knows it too. They see younger people coming through full of passion and excitement about changes in the industry. Changes that they can barely keep up with. Changes that they aren’t that willing to keep up with.

They aren’t as fit as they used to be. They carry more weight. They feel tired. They don’t make time to exercise, because they don’t have time at their disposal.

They remember what it was like to have adventures. With their partners, with their friends. They used to do things to be connected. For now they’ll just have to let their connection be incidental to the responsibilities they have to undertake: at work and at working bees.

A feeling of disenchantment saturates their daily routine.

It is a sad state of affairs, but sadness is not how it comes out. It comes out as being touchy, resentful, grumpy or at times angry. This seems to be the language of men.

There are several diagnostic categories that are characterised by anger: Oppositional Defiance, Conduct Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). Men are almost one and a half times more likely to have Oppositional Defiance (1),  twice as likely to have Conduct Disorder (2), and three times more likely to have ASPD (3). We struggle in drug and alcohol domains and even when we are depressed we are much more likely to come across as angry rather than sad. Unfortunately, men “do” anger better than women. This is a generalisation I concede, but it is generally true all the same.

So what can we do? Rather than fighting, faking or fleeing, we need to ‘sit behind the steering wheel’ and face what is going on.

Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Connect with yourself. Anger, just like depression and anxiety is an expression of Heart level distress.  When did the anger begin? Was it last year? The year before? What happened that led to the anger?
  2. Consider what might be reasonable about your anger. On many occasions we get angry, and it is right that we should. Anger has its place just like anxiety and sadness do. Listen to it.
  3. Knock the sharp edges off it. For many of us, the anger is extravagant. It goes beyond what is reasonable. It becomes too intense and goes on for too long. Sketch out what “reasonable” looks like by considering how a respected friend might feel in your situation. If they feel angry, then maybe it is okay to feel angry too.
  4. Connect horizontally, connect vertically. Tell trusted friends about your anger. Describe it for them, the history of it, the thoughts you get when you feel it, what you say and do when it is pushing you around.
  5. Finally, tell the story of your Heart. Ask yourself and tell the story of how your anger might be connected to other feelings (sadness and fear) as well as the Heart related injuries: Shame, betrayal, low self esteem, poor identity, lack of belonging.

This last step is crucial. We must take ourselves and a friend or partner beneath the anger and see what else is there. For many men there is something much more substantial. One man felt I nailed it when I asked him if he felt like he was reduced to being “the family ATM”. He felt used. Another man grieved a time and place when and where things were better in his life. He was missing out. Another broke down when he confessed that he thinks he hates himself. Two of them are on the edge of unemployment and feel anxious. All of them need more sleep. Most of them miss having fun with their partners and friends.

They all feel irrelevant, overlooked, disconnected, disliked.

Anger is the ‘acting out’ of a Heart level injury. We stomp, we have a short fuse, we raise our voices all because on the inside we sense, among other things, that we are irrelevant, overlooked, disconnected, disliked. These are the deep Heart related issues that must be spoken out. The last thing these men should be doing is getting a slap on the wrist and told to stop it. All grumpy people must keep their Heart in their Minds. Only then will the grumpiness disappear.

  1. DSM-Vp 464
  2. Cohen, P., Cohen, J., Kasen, S., Velez, C.N., Hartmark, C., Johnson, J., Rojas, M., Brook, J., & Streuning, E.L. (1993). An Epidemiological Study of Disorders in Late Childhood and Adolescence – Age and gender specific prevalence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 34(6), 851-867.
  3. Alegria, A.A., Blanco, C., Petry, N.M., Skodol, A.E, Liu, S.M., Grant, B., Hasin, D. ((2013). Sex Differences in Antisocial Personality Disorder: Results from the National Epidemological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Personality Disorders, 4(3), 214-222.

Innovation and connection

As a long-term career researcher in Australia’s leading National Science Organisation, it seems that not a day goes by without hearing the call to be “innovative”:

Innovation keep us competitive. Innovation creates growth and global success. Innovation keeps us at the cutting edge. Innovation creates jobs. Innovation will keep our standard of living high…

This all sounds great. But what is innovation, exactly?

Innovation in Organisations comes from connection between people

There are perhaps many definitions but for me innovation is really about connection. I have noted that many of the major innovations that we see unfolding before us today are in fact combinations of things that had already existed – it’s just that for some reason it hadn’t occurred that such things could be meaningfully put together. And so it’s the value that connection makes that really fascinates me.

Innovative ideas come from connections between ideas

As a Christian, you can imagine that same investigative instinct is at work attempting to explore connections in Scripture in order to gain fresh insight and direction. While the universal themes in Scripture are inherently integrated, there is one recurring connection in particular that never fails to amaze me: the link between heart and mind:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind…
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding…
Put on the helmet of salvation [mind], breastplate of righteousness [heart]…
The peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…

Innovation of individuals comes mainly from connections we make between two domains of human functioning

So why is such a strong emphasis made on connecting hearts and minds together? It’s because we need both our heart and mind operating in union if we are to make the kind of choices that lead to life giving experiences. It’s because our hearts are best at choosing soul direction while our minds are needed to navigate and enact our decisions. And it’s because God is constantly desiring that we come to experience the liberty and transformation that unfolds as we seek his heart and his mind in all things. To be aware and integrated – wow, this is real innovation!

So how about you? How connected is your heart and mind right now – to yourself and God? What simple practices could you try to keep your heart and mind open to God’s innovative whispers?

Dr Jonathan Ralston is a Research Scientist
He is an Invited Contributor to Heart in Mind

How to really know someone.


This is how you really get to know someone: You get to know them at a Heart level. Try asking these questions.

What is your most significant role in life?
Who is in your family?
Who is the person who has most influenced your direction in life?
Where did you grow up? Who did you grow up with?
What are your most cherished values?
How do you try to live those out?

These questions get to the Heart of a person: Identity, purpose and direction. There are many other questions you could ask (“What is your favourite colour?”, “What have you been up to?”), but these other questions, no doubt useful in their own way, aren’t related to Heart level functioning and as such won’t be as revealing.

When we understand someone in this way lovely things are afoot. Connection with another often lifts dramatically when we get answers to these questions. You will sense it in your mood state, energy level and the amount of talking that occurs after participating in the exercise. Connection is not just the result of the process, but it is also the precondition. Without safe, warm, respectful connection, the person who you are with will never even be prepared to answer the questions in a truthful way. Why would they?

The other benefit of these questions is that you can ask them of yourself. If you can not only ask them but provide answers as well, you will have a much clearer understanding of your own Heart – your identity and purpose and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be more connected with you as well.