Brilliant Jerks

Craig

19 Posts Published

Date

July 7, 2017

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanik

American culture does a good job of creating, idolizing, and then rewarding, young men who are convinced of the following life principles:

  1. Life is a party. Rock on.
  2. You’re the master of your domain. You get to decide how life goes. Others are at your service.
  3. You’re special. The rules that govern others don’t apply to you. You get a pass.
  4. You’re invincible. You’re forever young. You’ll avoid the natural consequences of injury, illness and aging.
  5. It’s all about you. You’re the center of the universe. Grab it.

In 2008 Michael Kimmel wrote an extremely informative book entitled Guyland in which he defined an American sub-culture, males 16-26. These are young men who “shirk the responsibilities of adulthood and remain fixated on the trappings of boyhood, while the boys they still are struggle heroically to prove that they are real men despite all evidence to the contrary.” p. 4.

Kimmel was prophetic, but he may have under-estimated the age range of Guyland. It seems too often to apply to older men who ought to know better.

We just watched the most recent example of a self-absorbed young power-broker, 40 year-old Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanik, run into real consequences in the real world. Kalanik built one of Silicon Valley’s biggest success stories on a toxic workplace of uber-aggressive competition, sexual harassment toward women, drug abuse and a blind eye toward unethical behavior by top performers. (NY Times, Feb. 22, 2017)

To their credit, Uber’s board made a commitment to no longer hire “brilliant jerks,” in the words of Arianna Huffington. Under pressure, Kalanik resigned in order to “work on himself.”

As hard as it is to accept, a part of the maturing process that many men ignore or deny is based on a set of principles I heard at a men’s retreat two decades ago. I think they are accurate. In fact, I think they define the line between boys and men:

  1. Life is hard. You will encounter hardship, failure and loss. Better get used to the idea.
  2. You’re not in control. There are other authorities in the world (such as board members) who can, and will, exert influence and consequences in your life.
  3. You’re not special. You’re absolutely unique; there is no one on earth exactly like you. But you aren’t special. The natural, physical and moral laws that apply to everyone else apply to you, too.
  4. You’re going to die. There will be an end to your story. Do you care about the story you’re writing?
  5. Your life is not all about you. Your life is also about others. For most of us the most significant legacy we will grant to the world will not be property, possessions or finances. It will be the imprint of our life, for better or for worse, on those we care for and love.

Men, the sooner we resist and turn from over-indulged and self-absorbed versions of principles such as independence, freedom and success, so valued by our culture, the sooner we will bring genuine, mature, other-centered, masculine benefit and blessing to others.

It just might be time to grow a pair.

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