From that first evening we all gathered for the Entrée, MT101 (Kirribilli) seemed to have an irrepressible will of its own. The get-together went smoothly and by the time we were asked whether we wanted to form a Table for real, it was almost as if you could hear a collective “Well of course, isn’t it obvious?”. And like that, our Table was born. You could feel that people were ready to get started.
When we meet now, many in our Table comment that the time between meetings feels longer than it is. So now, only four months in, I’m sharing some observations. New Tables are forming, and people might wonder what to expect.
Here are three things I didn’t quite expect when I signed up for the Entrée, but I’m already glad I was wrong:
1. To share is great, to listen even more so.
I remember our second Men’s Table vividly. We’d figured out how give everyone time to share their stories, thoughts and feelings. A natural rhythm was already starting to settle in.
As we all checked in, opening up about what was on our minds, it was clear that this was a Table where many of the men seemed comfortable to share some serious things. Things that worried them, kept them up at night, or even scared them about themselves. We heard some challenging things as well as some lighter-hearted stories.
What I remember most was how I couldn’t stop smiling. This wasn’t because I didn’t appreciate what it took for people to share things with a group of men they hadn’t known for very long, but because as I listened to each and every member of our Table share his thoughts, I realised that there was something of value in their stories to me. Even if my situation was different, or I hadn’t experienced anything similar before, just listening to these men gave me perspective, a different viewpoint and above all a sense of privilege – privilege to be trusted and valued. I knew then that the Men’s Table had the power to make many of us better versions of ourselves.
2. Everyone, literally, has something to teach us.
Many of us instinctively know, and the rest perhaps grudgingly accept, that diversity is a strength in any team. Our Men’s Table isn’t exactly a team in the classic sense, but it’s definitely a group of people with a common cause.
Despite this, in many ways we couldn’t be more different. Our Table comprises men across a more than 30-year age span, at different stages of life, born in many different countries and with hugely different lived experiences. Some felt comfortable opening up right away (feeling perhaps that it’s easier to be honest to people who don’t really know you yet) while others indicated a desire to hold back until they felt more comfortable.
Our Table includes men who have ceased working full time, and others who have demanding work lives. It includes those with and without children. It includes men who are dealing with difficult situations with loved ones and men who face challenges at work.
I suppose none of this surprises me – of course we are going to be different. What has surprised me however, is how I’ve found something of value even in things experienced by men with whom I might once have felt I had little in common. I’m starting to realise that it just doesn’t matter. Even the simple act of talking, listening and respecting has shown me that there are often answers in places you don’t expect to find them.
3. I already care what happens to the men in my Table.
I’m not sure I expected this, but after 4 months, and 4 regular meetings I care about each and every member of our Table, as well as our supportive guide Eric, from the Kitchen.
I’ve always been high on empathy and able to put myself in someone else’s shoes, but I find myself genuinely caring about my fellow Table-mates more than I thought I would at this point. There are people I’ve known for 30 years that know less about me than the men at my Table. I suspect this may be true for some of the others too.
But I guess there’s something in a gathering of people, where everyone leads and no-one leads, that gives us a chance to be heard and a chance to talk. It has meant that we get to know each other quickly, and for me, the very quick realisation that I care about them too.
I already hope that the man who will be moving away with his family in search of something more finds it. He is good, decent, kind.
I also hope that the man hoping to create a family with his wife gets exactly that. I can’t imagine the pressure that puts on a couple, and how it might infiltrate wider aspects of life.
I want the man who shared thoughts about his perceived failings as a husband and father to know that those are the thoughts of a selfless person.
I wish nothing but happiness for the man who starts a new job doing something he loves, rather than something he’s always done, and hope he truly loves it. I wonder if he knows how much people admire him for just giving it a go. I sometimes wish I had the courage to do the same.
I hope that the man who finds himself working from home, and missing the company of people in the workplace knows that I’m always around for a chat or a drink at the pub.
And speaking of drinks, I hope the man who shared thoughts around times when alcohol has been a negative influence in his life knows that people admire his honesty, and the way he took control of the situation. One day, perhaps those he hurt unintentionally come to see what we have all seen: a clever, thoughtful and generous man with the highest of principles.
Each and every member of our Table has already had an impact on us all, including those not mentioned here – yet. And so, as we look forward to our 5th gathering next month, it’s possible there will be more surprises ahead. Hopefully, they will be good surprises. Even if they’re not though, I already know that our Table will give its members the space to be heard, the opportunity to listen, and the support of people who genuinely care.
Philip Woolff is from Neutral Bay ; and has been a member of MT 101 – Kirribilli since its formation in January 2023.