Strange men

Like many of you, I watched the grand final(s) last month but did it with a group of strange men - blokes I largely didn't know ...

Just writing the words "strange men" curdles my stomach a little because we've all had such a dose of the more sinister overtones of the phrase in the past month.

The thing is, after my hangover had receded by about the Tuesday after the weekend, my experiences with "strange men" left me hopeful about who we are, and who we're becoming as males and humans.

Despite the deeds of alleged rapist murderers, the petulance of religious extremists, the pique of Alan Jones and the relentlessly stupid narrow-casting of men that pervades so much of our culture, I was quietly overwhelmed by how thoughtful, kind and caring were most guys I talked to.

And this was on a day when many blokes are prone to drinking too much, screaming obscenities in the faces of others and generally subsuming displays of our finer natures.

Over the course of eight hours, I found myself at tables with guys with whom I had absolutely no connection - save alcohol - and, after they realised I was simply on the piss, rather than taking it, they answered some pretty personal questions.

Moreover, the men were of diverse backgrounds - a group of Vietnamese and Malaysian heritage, another trio whose relatives hailed from the Middle East and some plain vanilla Anglo-Saxon types, among many others.

They were footballers and bankers, personal trainers, IT-types, tradies, miners, chefs, labourers and the odd drug dealer.

However, they all shared a kind of bewildered disappointment about the actions of the more contemptible, aggressive, irrational and, tellingly, widely publicised members of our sex.

The phrase I heard most?

"Things have changed" and I believe it's only the most ignorant, wounded and desperate men in Australia who don't recognise that.

The frustrating thing for many guys is the change occurring among us is multi-generational, and often near-glacial compared with the instant demands of media and social media.

In some groups it's older men who are leading, in others it's younger guys - but attitudes have shifted - about women, race, religion, violence, family, fatherhood and homosexuality - and they continue to do so, slowly eroding the spine of cruelty and dispassion often characterising traditional male roles.

What's stunning and, enormously encouraging, is that we can even perceive this change.

When you consider that all of us, male and female, have been in these bodies since the first "anatomically modern humans" appeared 200,000 years ago - that we can even register development on the immensity of that timescale is truly remarkable.

Like everything else to do with humanity, our psychological development - and dare I say, its refinement - is speeding up.

Scientists have known for years our physical evolution has jumped forward a gear - thus "modern man's" tolerance to lactose and cereals and the appearance of genes that suppress body odour and thwart malaria.

Darwin also famously theorised evolution occurs faster in larger populations and, like it or not, our cultural "population" has exploded in the last 20 years.

The number of voices, ideas and attitudes we encounter daily has gone from being simply our peer group, family and home town - to much of the world.

And while many of those voices and thoughts are dreck, endless echoes of our tinier, fearful selves - it's hard to disagree a general theme of tolerance and compassion for "strangers" has, and continues to, emerge.

I just wish the process would speed up a little more.

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