REAL graduated with a Bachelor of Medical Science,

REAL MEN DO CRY

What
does masculinity really mean? Would you dare risk your life for the sake of
saving face and be the ideal man that the society expected you to be? How
wonderful it would be if “real men” were able to express their feelings and
emotions. The world would be a better place.

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To
understand the meaning of being a man, we interviewed a man of wisdom himself;
Ehon Chan, the founder of the renowned men’s health campaign ‘Soften the Fck
Up’.

Born
September 30, 1986 in Kuching Sarawak, this 27-year-old is now a well-recognised
speaker, consultant, and catalyst in Australia.

He
is an entrepreneur and advocate for purpose-driven businesses with experience
working as a consultant, educator and advisor on projects related to
innovation, strategic planning, problem solving and facilitation, programme
design and partnerships as well as community building.

He
has won several prestigious awards, including LIFE Award from Suicide
Prevention Australia, Merdeka Award from Australia-Malaysia Business Council,
Mental Health Achievement Award from Queensland Department of Health, besides
being named Australia’s Top 10 Young & Influential from Shoe String
Magazine, Melbourne’s Top 100 Most Influential from The Age and Fairfax Media,
Australia’s Top 30 Digital Influencer from the Australian Trade Commission,
Australia Unlimited, GOOD 100 People Moving the World Forward from GOOD
Magazine and Australia’s Top 25 Social Entrepreneurs. 

Ehon
moved to Australia when he was 17 years old, just after he finished secondary
school at St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Kuching. Initially, Ehon wanted to
be a doctor and graduated with a Bachelor of Medical Science, double majoring
in Pharmacology and Toxicology, and Physiology and Neuroscience from Flinders
University in South Australia in 2006-2008.

But
then, he had a change of mind. He started to take a one-year break and during
that time, one of his friends asked him to venture into business together. They
started a digital magazine which he eventually quit because publishing and
journalism were neither his strong points nor his interest.

Eventually,
he had the urge to support young people with great ideas to achieve what they
wanted to achieve. He then started a business incubator with capital he had earned
from the digital magazine.

Fortunately
for him, through collaborations with the counsel and KPNG, the world’s largest
consultant management firm, they built a space for people to be able to come
together and receive job training to turn their ideas into business plans and eventually
actions.

In
July 2012, Ehon started Hub, which is another co-working space which is based
in Melbourne. Since then, it expanded to two more branches in Sydney and
Adelaide. During that time, one of the things that he wanted to do was tackle a
big problem in Australia.

 

EHON CHAN

When
asked about how he would describe himself, he said: “I am one of the gents who
is hard to put myself in a box. I see myself as a creator. I make things
happen. I don’t see myself making certain things happen; I just make things
happen when things are needed either in business, philanthropy, speaking and
whatever it is that I do. I make awesome things happen, hopefully to make the
world better.”

It
is not common to meet someone with such passion and drive especially in
changing people’s perceptions and making change around the world that is
meaningful for everyone.  

“One
of the things that I have learnt is to always remain humble. In life, you will
never stop learning. The moment you stop learning is not a life, and that you
are no longer living. Never think that you’re higher than anyone else. Remain
humble, learn, and do things that make you feel alive.”

Challenging
ourselves and overcoming our fears is very important, and for Ehon, he enjoys
doing things that challenge him, make him happy, sad, and even stressed out as emotions
define him and what being human really is. For him, you only have one life to
live, and it is extremely important to make it right, make it count, and just
do the right things, right.

“One
of the things that we should do is to break out from any status quo, such
boundaries that society had put on us that we have to be that, for example if
we study medical science we have to be a doctor. We don’t have to be that, we
don’t have to draw a certain path; we can go anywhere that we can go whatever
path it is. Ultimately we only have one life to live. So don’t always follow
the rule and don’t always follow the mould.”  

For
me, I always say that we cannot speak on behalf of, but what we can do is we can
speak with, so one of the things I always do is co-create everything. I have
lots of ideas, but I don’t know how to do them. So what I do is I get people
which are the target market that I want to get involved with and I get them
involve. When ‘Soften the Fck Up’ came about, all I have in my mind has been
the name ‘Soften the Fck Up’, what it may look like, and what it is I had no
idea.

So,
I recruited 52 young men from the age of 18 to 35, where we set them in a room
every week and they come with ideas, we should have videos, we should have this
we should have that. Men who use words like “take control because we like to be
in control” are our target market and they know what works are best.

When
we first started Hub, I always say that I know what I want to build; I want to
build a collaborative community about what Hub should be. I cannot tell you, I
cannot speak on behalf of you, so we bring freelancers, contractors,
entrepreneurs, business people, doctors, professors from university and they
tell us what the space should look like, what does it feels like, what they
need to be able to be productive and feel like they belong to that place so
those are the cooperation as being the center of everything that I do and you
don’t have to try too hard.

Before
I moved to Australia I did lot of things in Malaysia. I did a campaign inspired
by Love in a Box back in the days during Christmas period. So what I do is I
recruited the Red Crescent Society and we built a really big giant box and we
leave it in front of Everrise Shopping Center to get people to buy things and
extra product and drop it into the box. What we do with those product is we
take all the gifts that they dumped wrapped them up and labeled it accordingly
to the age group of that gift and give it out to old folks home, children’s
home, and cancer wards here in Kuching and Miri as I was studying in Miri
before. We ended up having such a big success that we have to empty the box
every single day and we have so much that we don’t know where to give it up to.

So,
as the campaign I used to do, I used to do quite a few other campaign in
Malaysia, we visit the children wards, schools for the blind here in Kuching,
and that was probably the most humbling experience in my life. We did a big
party for them just before Christmas and one thing we realized is that a lot of
these children were blind and they came from rural remote communities where
they usually really poor and most of them never taste the ice cream in their
entire life. Most of them had never tasted any kind of candies in their entire
life and they live a very basic life. So I remember when we first got there, we
brought ice cream and seeing their face lit up since, that was the first time
they tasted those ice cream, brings every single emotions in your body out,
from the sadness to the happiness, to the gratitude, anguish and anger for the
society. Everything in you just bubbled up and that was probably one of the
most humbling experiences in my life.

 

SPUR PROJECTS

Spur
Projects had started and launched in early 2011. Back then, there were only 52
volunteers as it was merely a social experiment. Slowly, some of the largest
agencies and organizations in the world came and help until they finally
evolved into an organization and getting fund to employ three employees and
invited hundreds of volunteers who were trained to remain lean, neat, strong
and extremely efficient.

This
organization organizes campaigns every once a year. The first campaign was the
‘Soften the Fck Up’ which was around starting a conversation among men, and it
got the most responses, about 40,000 people engaged with them.

The
second campaign was ‘Better If You’re Around’ to get people to think about
their future, showing the things that people will miss if they’re no longer
around in 10 years’ time. The campaign was also quite successful, about 50,000
people engaged, where they watched a series of videos where SPUR documented
people backwards from 2052 all the way to 2012, as to see how people’s life
change from having grandchildren all the way to where they were kids, just to
get people to think about what will they miss if they’re not around anymore.
People need to change their perceptions, getting themselves to think about
their future, and instead of them being caught up by current dark clouds
situation.

The
third campaign recently was the ‘Get Silent Get Heard’ held last year where
they challenged people not to talk or having any social media interactions for
a day on World Suicide Prevention Day, to make people aware that telling
someone else problem and difficulties is fine, but imagine not talking for a
day, where they got everyone to go blackout to highlight the issue of how easy
it actually is to start a conversation versus not having a conversation at all.

 

‘SOFTEN THE FCK UP’

One
of the biggest problems in Australia is suicide, especially among men. It is
the number one cause of death among young people in Australia, for men between
the ages of 15 to 44 and for women between 15 to 34 years old. Out of all
suicide cases, 80% were men. Five out of six suicides in Australia are men.

The
higher rate of male suicides comes down to stereotypes of masculinity and
notions of manliness in Australia.

In
Australia, men are expected told to “harden the f*ck up”. As a man they should
do things men do, i.e. drinking and get drunk, and never talking about issues
or problems.

So,
Ehon decided to counter that culture and run a campaign called ‘Soften the Fck
Up’. It first started as an experiment with a couple of his friends and eventually
grew to become an organization campaigning for the prevention of male suicides.

The
site eventually became the number one online site for men to express their
feelings and emotions, rather than become a victim of suicide.

There
are mental health nurses and psychiatrist as well as psychologists from around Australia,
who review clinical contents and provide advices, and they make their reviews
and advices cool so people will actually be able to understand instead of it
being clinical language that people mostly don’t understand.

 

INSPIRATIONAL STORIES FROM THE
RESPONDENTS

Ehon
added, “I definitely have heard lots of stories, one of them is from my
housemate from South Africa. He has got this big man mentality. And because
he’s a man, he needs to own house, have a wife by his 30 years old, must have a
stable job, for him, that’s what men are for, they are the bread winners,
making and earning money, have a family, have a house, and grow kids. He always
had difficulties in interacting with women, hence, maintaining relationships.
So, I always try to have conversation with him and he always struggle, in fact,
he treated me like his little brother but then, we never get the chance to have
honest conversation because he just not that kind of guy. So when we started
the campaign, he sent me an email telling me that he has been struggling with
mental illness and he haven’t had the courage to tell anyone because for him
men don’t have mental health issues, they don’t suffer from depression, they
don’t have anxiety, they don’t have any kind of issue, and for him if he tells
someone of his issue, he’s no longer a man anymore. So for us to start the
campaign he had changed his perception he wants to be a part of that brand new
story of men coming out and proudly mentioned that “I’m a men and I have
depression and that’s ok”.

“Another
story came from a man who wrote on our YouTube comment saying that “I was
contemplating suicide and now I’m writing my suicide note when I went to
Facebook and one of my friend shared your campaign video and I went on to your
campaign site and looked through all the stories and realized, hold on a
second, I have been through this too, there is still hope, maybe I should have
hang on my plan and get help and I’ll be fine” and that’s just what he did and
brought himself to a mental health clinic where they monitored his progression
and health condition. I went to visit him in the clinic and he told me that
he’s getting better with his parents by his side. Now, he’s working with one of
the largest media company in Australia and had just won a huge Journalism award
in Australia, he’s doing great now. Honestly, it’s really hard when you look at
these people and you don’t look right on their life and that will then be
wasted if they actually ended their life at the moment. Such moment for me is
always very humbling.”

“The
story that I like the most and watch it many times was the story of a TV news
presenter. Channel 10 Late News is probably one of the most watched late news programmes
in Australia and they contacted me for an interview. That night after my
interview, they played the news and I was surprised that for a moment, the
entire studio went silent and one of the most respected news presenter then
said he wanted to take the time and opportunity to share his story. He said “I
actually lost four of my dad and my brother to suicide. I lost the entire male
figure in my family. There is only me my mom and my sister now. So I almost
lost myself to suicide as well. But I know there is hope. That’s the message
that we need to get across everyone and I never shared my story because I
didn’t know the significant of it but now knowing that every time I speak about
my story, I give hope to other people too. I wanted to take this opportunity in
the spirit of the campaign to say that I survived suicide, and even though the
chances are against me, I can still get help and I know I can get better” So,
that was really one big moment for us. The social media were then went nuts.
The story of the news presenter trended on Twitter in the entire Australia for
the entire night all the way to 7am the next morning. In the morning, every
single newspaper in Australia had a column, opinion, or blog post, and even
main story about the campaign and they even managed to get one of their news readers
from every news agency to share their stories as well and how they survived
suicide. That was a huge moment for us because we believe every conversation,
every story, can change the perception of mental health issue particularly suicide
among men in the country.”

 

CHALLENGES

Fear
had been a significant challenge when people trying to express themselves out
especially in serious matters and issues. For Ehon, most of the respondents
said that they are afraid at first because they’re scared of people’s
judgments.

As
for Ehon, he himself does have fear too. The way he gets over his fear is by
having mentors, incredible people who he have a lot of admiration and respect
for, and the ones that he want to become, that reminds him things each ordinary
person could do, to make that one small step towards becoming a better world.

“The
moment someone stopped taking that step is the moment that we move one step
behind. The world is constantly taking two steps forward and one step backward.
We cannot afford to have one step forward and one step backward, or one step
forward and two steps backward.”

Other
challenge is that people are going to criticize other people. Calling names is
one of the most significant methods of criticizing. Looking at the movements
around the world for instance, getting women recognized for having the same
rights as men. People will always look down upon the pioneers, the people who
started the conversation first. We as human, who are trying to change the bad
perceptions around the world, have to push through that fall and make
everything fine.

Referring
to the Soften the Fck Up campaign and research they had done, the things that
makes men so reluctant to speak out their feelings and emotions are that men
don’t like losing control, because traditionally men are always viewed in most
cultures as a person who takes control and provide for the family. They cannot
get sick because they need to go to work and if they stop working there will be
no food for the family. They are the bread winners who provides for the family,
so they cannot, at any time have any kind of weakness.

That
stereotypes have in some way continues on to live until today. From the moment
we are young, we stop the male from showing any kind of weakness or negative
emotions. People want them to stop those emotions and express them in a
rational way to make them stop feeling those negative emotions.

For
example, if we look at the way we are kids, if a baby girl and a baby boy came
running to a parent crying, chances are people going to tell the baby girl “Oh
darling come down and tell me what happened?” whereas for the baby boy people
said “Stop crying right now, be a man, and then you tell me what happened!”

In
some ways, people who grew up in this culture where men are not allowed to show
emotions and any kind of weakness, where men have to be strong and powerful for
them to save the world. So having said, different social cultures can be a
major factor of stopping men from expressing themselves.

 

‘SOFTEN THE FCK UP’ IN MALAYSIA?

“I
don’t think so. Not right now. This is probably because I don’t think suicide
is the most depressing problem in Malaysia. In my opinion, the most depressing
problem in Malaysia, I dare say, is human rights, such as freedom of speech.
These human rights, for example representation of men and women in workplaces
especially in executive positions are what we need to tackle in Malaysia. One
of the things that we definitely need to do is bringing a brand new
conversation. If we ever need a campaign that would be to create a brand new
narrative on what Malaysia should be. Could it be a world? Or could it be a
country that models the world? Moving away from capitalism, reducing the amount
of Westernization, and really focusing on what we are strong at as our strength
will then make us go from good to great.

“Saying
that, we are great at nature, for example, and then how about making us the
best place in the world for nature, a place where harmony and multiculturalism
are deeply appreciated. Instead of creating segregation like using the word
“Allah” in the Bible, let us create harmony and unity since those are our main
strength, take our strength and make it amazing. Do not take our weaknesses and
try to do okay with it.”

 

FUTURE PLANS

“In
terms of what I am going to do next, I don’t know yet. I thought about things
that I can do in Malaysia; one of them is that I think that we need a brand new narrative. Malaysia
as a society has always been one of the most interesting community in the world.
I dare say that I have travelled all around the world and Malaysia, for me, has
to be the most multicultural.”

Looking
at the significant of it, there exists lots of multiethnic countries around the
world, where they do celebrate different ethnicities but they do not celebrate
different cultures. As for that, there always be a predominant culture exist in
that country. For example, Australia have Greeks, Italians, as well as
indigenous Australians but most of them don’t know anything about other ethnic
cultures and they don’t know the cultures or festivals that they celebrate,
which is different in Malaysia where every single culture has significance to a
point where we declare public holidays for different cultures with their
significant days.

“In
Malaysia, regardless of what culture you are from, you respect each other’s
culture and you celebrate with them and that is something you don’t see often
in other country.

“However,
I dare say in the last decade; Malaysian has grown really cynical and skeptical
as well. When Malaysian sees someone doing good deeds, there’s always
criticism. Other people criticize charities, and they said people do good it’s
only because of hidden agendas.

“As
Malaysian, we have to start a brand new narrative, in order to change such
cultures and perception; we need to change stories that Malaysian tells each
other. For example, when someone do good, we should not cut them down, we
should instead, promote and encourage them, giving them the limelight that they
need to inspire new generation to do things that is right and not things that previous
generation have done.”

Stories
about Malaysian who works really hard to bring them out of poverty, and do
things that their parents or their previous generation didn’t expect them to
do, are mostly the most sought after stories that we should probably be
promoting.

“One
of the things I have been thinking about is to start a series of short videos
which highlight different stories hopefully to inspire others. The work of the
late Yasmin Ahmad has been extremely important and now that she’s gone, we
don’t have such significant figure to continue on the message that she sent to
us every festive season and every time we have a holiday. The positive
narrative and what it means to be Malaysians.”

 

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

 “For me, the thing Malaysian youth can learn
from Australians are their stories. Malaysian need a brand new story, and the
youth should stop criticizing. I always said that there are differences between
anti and pro something and the one we should always do is the positive side. Do
not work on anti-something because you are not providing brand new solutions to
solve a problem. You are highlighting the problem. Give people options, new
solutions on what it could be. Start a brand new conversational of a specific
problem or issue and provide options on what need to be done. Malaysian youth
need to criticize less and do more. Do, create, make, and don’t stop doing
that.

“On
the other hand, the thing Australian youth can learn from Malaysian is
resilient. In Australia, everything seems to be much contemplated; they grow up
in an environment where they have made up. Australia have Medicare, so if they
get sick they can go to doctor for free. If they cannot get a job, the
Australian government will provide them $150 a week for free because tax payers
give money and the government gives it to them. So when they get really sick,
they finally lost all the resilience to bounce back. Different from Malaysia,
where the youth are forced to be resourceful, humble, willing to get down and
dirty to do things that need to get done to survive. That’s what makes us
resilient, and ultimately indirectly help to decrease the number of suicides in
Malaysia, although that’s arguable.”

 

WORDS OF ADVICE

 “If there is any advice from me, is really to
encourage people to think “What legacy that you want to leave behind? Remember,
regardless of religion, culture and race you are, you are still human with
blood through your veins. We are all the same, and we all going to die
eventually. So whatever you have done on this earth eventually does not matter.
So you can either take out resources and oxygen to do amazing things and when
you die, it doesn’t matter because you die with great things that you ended up
and made you feel alive. So what do you want to choose to do? Make that choice
wisely because eventually you will die so, make it count.

For more information, log on to http://softenthefckup.com.au/.
It’s Time To Have Your Say.

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