I love this initiative. Rob Osman from Bristol in the UK, who has struggled with social anxiety and depression, created a dog walking group for guys to gab about their feelings and struggles (if they so choose). He did so after he found walking his dog, Mali, was such a huge help for his own mental health.
For anyone, but for men especially, ‘let’s go for a walk’ is so much more appealing than ‘let’s have a talk’.
Dudes & Dogs Walk & Talk he calls it. Don’t you just love that?
The program is there to make it easier for men to talk or, even just to join in and go for a walk with another dude and a dog. No pressure or requirement to say a thing.
In a Somerset Live interview, Rob Osman says “”It [walking a dog] is a good way (for people to relax and drop their barriers) because you do not have to look at each other in the eye and are in an open space.”
I talk about how to create an encouraging space for folks to talk in my most recently developed “keyshop” (combo of a keynote and workshop) Creating Comfortable Mental Health Conversations at Work.
When you’re talking to someone about a potentially delicate issue (like mental health, or simply feelings), you want the individual to feel safe. You don’t want them to feel cornered (as in a hallway) or too exposed (in view of co-workers in the break room) or threatened or defensive (like sitting across a table or a desk even).
I suggest the very initial ‘how are you doing?’ questions happen while casually walking through the parking lot away from others. Strolling from one job site to another is another good place to start a conversation.
Osman continues: “It is at their pace and there is no expectation for them to have to talk – it could be that they just listen the first few times.”
Men and women relate and express their feelings in very different ways and environments. We women sit across from each other, looking supportively into each other’s eyes, drinking tea or coffee and talk, and talk and TALK.
I can call a girlfriend who I will be seeing that same night, talk on the phone for an hour or more during the day, and still have things to say to her in the evening. My husband just shakes his head and wonders how on earth could we have so much to say to each other. That’s women for ya.
Men on the other hand, so I’ve been told, open up when they are side-by-side doing things together. None of this eye contact kind of stuff. They watch ‘the game’, sit around a fire, go for a hike, or as Osman knows, go walking with a dog. Then talking flows from the activity.
We need our men to talk. The stoic ‘I-can-tough-anything-out’ is killing them. 11 people die every day by suicide In Canada. Most of them are males. That doesn’t even capture the individuals who attempt it.
We need to normalize talking and explore ways of sharing that’re comfortable so men are willing to participate. Having women suggest ways ain’t gonna fly too far. Role models are the best way to create change. Rob Osman is one of those who is pioneering new methods to get his brothers in arms to stop suffering in silence and instead get into nature, with dude and dog, and share some of the tough stuff.
When men find healthy ways to express themselves and their struggles it positively impacts their families, their workplaces, and their communities. And THAT is something definitely worth talking about!
© Victoria Maxwell