Recently I attended the funeral of a dear friend, who just happened to be Lebanese and male. In Australia, and I am sure in many other places, being Lebanese comes with a variety of negative stereotypes including; chauvinistic, tough and masochistic.
I can tell you Nic, was none of these things. Nic was one of the most tender, kind-hearted and caring men I knew. The fact he was Lebanese was irrelevant. He had two children, a daughter and a son whom he loved dearly, there was no difference between how he loved his children, he never expressed differently towards them nor did he treat them differently. He brought all the love that he was to both of them equally and never stopped expressing his love for them, no matter how old they got. This was the same of his beautiful wife, Mimo, during the grieving process many people expressed how touched they were to see a couple who generally loved, respected and treated each other as equals. Describe this of any man, regardless of the culture and we would all be surprised, praising him for not being like other men, let alone a Lebanese man, which adds a whole other dimension.
Yet why if we did not have accepted stereotypes would we consider Nic, being the amazing man that he was, exceptional rather than the norm.
Stereotypes say a lot about what we accept and allow. In many cases when a man is not his natural tender and caring nature and instead acts tough and decides not to do the dishes, or change the nappies, we accept it as the norm, “he is just being a bloke”. Yet when a man expresses his true nature; expresses his love and adoration for his wife, children and others and dares to show his tender and sensitive side he gets told at best that he is “different” or worse that he needs to “toughen and man up”
I was recently speaking with colleagues who run domestic violence programs about this unhealthy phenomenon, and they shared a story with me. They said they were tidying up a kitchen after running a workshop and the male colleague was doing the dishes whilst the two female colleagues were talking to the side. They said that a male came into the kitchen and said, “as a joke”, “man why are you doing the dishes when two women are standing around talking”. The women said they were taken aback by this comment, especially just after running a domestic violence course, and wondered what the male colleague was going to do. What he did next was brilliant. He turned around and simply said, “I really like doing the dishes, so why wouldn’t I do them?” You know what happened next, the male who made the “I am tough” stereotypical comment said, “I actually really like doing the dishes too”. In that moment, the man was given permission to be exactly who he wanted to be without the force of the stereotypes telling him he had to be otherwise.
Which brings me back to Nic. Nic sometimes got frustrated when he saw the indecency and lack of respect in the world and the imposition of being told how to be rather than being allowed to be whoever it is we are. In that frustration and not knowing how to deal with it, he would get angry and go on a rant about how “stupid” people and the world were. No one could blame a man for that, in fact, I so appreciated him for it, as it always showed me he had not lost touch with his values, ethics and decency, even though he lived in a world that encouraged the disregard of them, he just didn’t know what to do with his feelings. Imagine if we were raised free of these stereotypes and our education first and foremost was about how to remain true to who we are and not about how to read our ABC’s. Not that the temporal side is not important, of course this is needed, but so too is educating our children free from stereotypes and giving them permission to be themselves. I know many people would argue that this does happen in schools, but I would beg to differ because currently we still have a world where domestic violence, suicide, rape, abuse and mental health are not only possible, they are on the rapid increase. Our model simply does not work.
Besides the celebration of the man that was Nic, what prompted me to write this blog was the story I heard about Nic when he was asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Jackie, Nic’s gorgeous daughter shared how her now husband, Gerry asked Nic for Jackie’s hand in marriage. To Gerry’s horror when he asked Nic, Nic very matter of factually said “No”. Poor Gerry who loved and respected Nic very much was floored and expressed to Jackie later that in his head he said, “This is not going very well.” Gerry genuinely respected Nic so when he said No, Gerry figured there was a reason.
Nic proceeded to tell the story of when Nic asked Mimo’s fathers’ permission for marriage. Her father said No too. Mimo’s father expressed, “Nic I have seven daughters all of whom I love very much, I don’t want to see my daughter leave Lebanon, so I say no. However, I love and respect my daughter, so if she says yes then you have my blessing”. For point of clarification, at the time of Nic asking, Nic and Mimo lived in Lebanon, however it was known that Nic was moving to start a life in Australia. So Nic in return said to Gerry, “I love my daughter and I respect her decision so if she says yes you have my full blessing and support”. Jackie and Gerry both lived in Australia and in fact lived very close to Nic and Mimo, so it was not that Gerry was “going to take Jackie anywhere”. In effect Nic said it is not my permission that is needed it is my daughters, breaking a very traditional and male dominated stereotype, that men have say over women.
I sat there stunned for a moment, first in the deepest of appreciation for both Nic and his father in law, for having such deep respect for woman and their choices and secondly because it struck me that I still held stereotypes of what it was to be a man let alone a Lebanese man. It struck me that I was surprised by this level of honouring. So, it seems I had also taken on the stereotypes of what it is to be a Lebanese man, see if I had not why would I have been so stunned, why would I have been touched by something that really should be the norm.
There is a term in psychology called a “heuristic” meaning that when someone goes against a typical stereotype, we see them as abnormal, different, not like the others, versus being challenged to break down our stereotypes.
I often hear the sayings “Lebanese are all like that” or “all Chinese do that” or “Muslims this” and it makes me giggle because I go “really you have met all of them”? Which makes me ask – do we see a person first or do we see the stereotypes, skin colour, race and culture first?
So before we even say hello have we already predetermined what we think about that person, and if they act out of that norm, they just become a heuristic, an abnormal cell, an anomaly versus someone that reflects to us that we have beliefs and ideals that impact on how we treat and act with people.
I say it is time to truly start observing and reflecting on all our pictures and beliefs about people and what it is we accept and allow, because until we do we will all be held as separate, each relegated to a classification of man, woman, country and colour, each continually reminding us that we are separate rather than one and forgetting that at the heart of each of us regardless of gender, is a decent, sweet, tender, sensitive and caring being.