COMMENTARY: What should a man be, what should he do?
By Riitta Vainio
My grandmother used to say that a man wasn't worth much of anything if he didn't take care of his family. She - a feisty Karelian matriarch, who looked after grandfather, her boys, her daughters-in-law, and her grandchildren alike - meant that everyone should look after not only themselves but those close to them.
In his inaugural address, the admired United States President John F. Kennedy declared on much the same subject: "...ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country".
In a song entitled Mitä miehen tulee olla, the Finnish band Suurlähettiläät [The Ambassadors] sing about the problem facing men today: should they be warm and fuzzy softies or a real manly-man? It is a tough question in modern-day Finland.
Is society responsible for everything, or do we ourselves shoulder the responsibility for ourselves and our loved ones?
In years gone by it used to be said - as a clever one-liner - that whenever anything went wrong it was society's fault; society has not been doing its job.
Now this will not wash any longer, since society has taken on so many jobs that it is hard to imagine anything that it does not take care of.
Society takes responsibility for children, old people, students, the sick and infirm, the handicapped, the immigrants. Society also provides services for dogs, for people who pursue certain hobbies, for clubs and associations, for buildings, squares, and streets.
As for us, we have less and less responsibility for our own selves. Perhaps that is society's fault?
This is not just a money issue, but also a question of human activity; without a sense of responsibility for one another we drift apart.
The grandmother who goes into a home for the elderly may not feel she is getting the care and attention she yearns for, even though she receives the right treatment and gets three square meals a day.
The municipal reforms currently under discussion touch on the same matters: should a community perform all those tasks that it now undertakes, or could the wealthy, the educated, and those who in all respects are moving full-steam-ahead through their lives give up some of the benefits and services, or alternatively pay more for them, in order that those in real need could get help?
This should be up for discussion, but not a peep has been heard out of Parliament.
Even Esko Aho, a former Prime Minister and now the President of the Finnish National Fund for Research and Development (SITRA), was on the wrong end of a knockout punch from all the experts when he pondered this in a recent newspaper interview.
Aho mused whether it would be possible to claim higher treatment fees from health care patients who do not look after their well-being, but who actively bring about costs through their unhealthy way of life.
The possible savings could for instance be put towards the burgeoning cost of care for the elderly.
Aho's idea was perhaps clumsily phrased, but nonetheless sensible: we eat ourselves into a ball of fat, then go for liposuction; we drink ourselves sick and then go for a pancreas transplant.
Medicine is the trump-card in the responsibility game nowadays. We believe it can clear up all our problems.
With some problems it can do just that, and before long we will be able to wake the dead - it is that effective, but then again it is increasingly expensive, too.
If we continue at our present rate of progress, the correct answer to the question posed by that Finnish band will be that a man doesn't need to be or do anything. When society expands its services to include the in vitro conception of new members of society, men will no longer be required.
The only thing left outside the service now is a rented womb for the purpose, and when that issue is sorted out we shall be able have as a turnkey public service the creation of new citizens, without anyone being obliged to do anything at all, not even in that department.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 20.10.2005
The writer is a staff journalist on the Home Affairs desk of Helsingin Sanomat.
RIITTA VAINIO / Helsingin Sanomat