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White Feathers on Remembrance Day

Lizzy Hoyt, the gifted singer from Edmonton, commemorates the Canadian epic WW1 battle for Vimy Ridge here –
Last night, she sang another WW1 song – White Feather [on iTunes] that has echoes for a battle underway now. That battle is to capture meaning for young men – who are dying now, as then, in alarming numbers.
Meaning was simple, but monumentally ill directed, in WW1. Young men were supposed to sign up, to go to France for love of country. Lizzy says some of the propaganda of the time depicted “our boys” over there as having a great time in the French Countryside. When the propaganda wasn’t enough, there was another, more insidious weapon pushing them from behind.
Those who hadn’t committed were victims of a White Feather. Anonymously transmitted [reminds one of the gutless bully and hate campaigns of unnamed provenance on social media], a white feather was sent by post to young men. The meaning was understood. You’re a shirker, allowing others to fight your war for you.
Lizzy’s haunting song depicts a young Irish med student, one exam short of an medical degree, receiving one. Shamed, he signed up immediately. And was fed into those fruitless fields of woe, dying in the Somme a few months later.
What a waste. In A World Undone, G. J. Meyer magisterially details the horrible leadership that launched the stalemate battles on the killing fields of Belgium and France. Battles where hundreds of thousands of young men were exterminated – only to have exactly the same battle plan relaunched a few months later – with exactly the same outcome. No movement, no gains, just hundreds of thousands of lives ground up on decimated soil.
If the young men then understood the big picture we can see now with hindsight, they might have seen through a crisis of meaning.
We are seeing it now among men of a certain age. They can’t find their way forward. And they are being lost to us – the flower of our youth – in catastrophic numbers. They are dying by their own hand. Suicide.
Movember started their drive for men’s health as prostate cancer fundraisers. Their hallmark gesture has men growing mustaches this month. They have expanded their mandate on a new front with this direct appeal – Stop men dying too young
The stats are staggering. Young men are 4 times more likely than equal age females to do the deed.
Why is that so?
Young males are concerned about looking good and fitting in: upholding the classic male archetypes. And belonging is not easy for them now, in fact, many feel there is no place for them. These may be precipitating factors leading to an immense hole of depression – one with such perpendicular sides, there is no scaling them.
But they may look fine – from the outside. Like Paul. Hugely likable, driven, resourceful, talented – a great dad with a young family and an entrepreneur who had two successful companies. From all externals, there was no hint.
So how could it be? That this lovely man, the apple of Jim and Barb’s eye and best friend of Evan – could end such a promising arc?
This is the shift from the big picture to right next door. Stalin said “one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.” To reverse that, looking at trends is one thing, having a tendency like this visit your life is unspeakably sad.
The evidence is manifest. We must make it okay for young men to speak about the “insoluble” dilemmas in their lives. Movember is a good start.
The white feather that they have visited upon themselves, the shame, has been taken into the self. They see no way out, much as those unwilling recruits to the WW1 slaughter. We must break that trance of hopelessness, not by arguing that there is more, but by giving them a place where they can give voice to the demons plaguing them.
And none of this urgent parallel takes any respect away from the courageous men and women who have taken our nation’s cause to the front. And on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we make a place of honor in our hearts for them..


Doug Bouey
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

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Doug Bouey, President
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

Calgary, AB // Phone: 403.777.1144


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