Brilliant Jerks

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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  1. R Knox July 10, 2017 at 3:32 PM - Reply


  2. Brian Jose July 10, 2017 at 3:33 PM - Reply

    Boom. Thanks for this, Craig. Nothing to add. No disagreement. You hit the mark here.

    • Craig July 10, 2017 at 5:20 PM - Reply

      Brian, I wonder how much of this attitude you saw over the years in males in Europe.

  3. David OGLETREE July 10, 2017 at 3:51 PM - Reply

    That flew straight to the target and hit the x ring.

  4. Larry Burtoft July 10, 2017 at 4:05 PM - Reply

    Do you mean to say that growing up requires coming to grips with reality? What a novel idea. Good stuff, Craig.

  5. David Begin July 10, 2017 at 4:21 PM - Reply

    Good read. As she said, this is not limited to young men.

    • Craig July 10, 2017 at 5:22 PM - Reply

      Absolutely true, Dave. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s necessarily defined by age. More by life perspective.

  6. Al De La Roche July 10, 2017 at 4:28 PM - Reply

    This pretty much nails it Craig. Thanks for sharing.

    • Craig July 10, 2017 at 5:19 PM - Reply

      Good to hear from you, Al!

  7. Andy Garcia July 10, 2017 at 5:08 PM - Reply

    It’s all true. Immature men don’t realize how the world really works as to a mature man knows how to get through life,

    • Craig July 10, 2017 at 5:18 PM - Reply

      Thanks for checking in, Andy.

  8. Ron DeLorenzo July 10, 2017 at 6:07 PM - Reply

    Excellent post, Craig. And really spot on! Plus, those principles you shared from the retreat of 20 years ago are outstanding, and even more appropriate in the “degrading” culture of today! Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • Craig July 10, 2017 at 6:55 PM - Reply

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation Ron!

  9. Ron Robins July 10, 2017 at 6:10 PM - Reply

    I agree with what you wrote Craig.

    I can’t help but think it started with the boom of post WWII America. Girded with renewed optimism and enablers like the GI Bill, the US vaulted to super power status with a high octane economy. The greatest generation bequeathed abundance like never seen in history. This led to a many adopting a new attitude of materialism and hedonism, and less interest in parenting. I think by the time boomers grew up they over compensated for the lack of attention they received and over indulged the millennial kids.

    An over emphasis on equal outcomes, “self-esteem” building, “Helicopter” parenting, everyone gets a trophy mentality abounded. Millennials were pampered like no other generation. They grew up expecting and in many cases getting everything. Who among us hasn’t given a child a car, sometimes when they turned 16…How many of us have a 20-something still at home, or still pay cell phone, car and health insurance for our post-college kids? What percent of 14 year olds have a smart phone in Monument?

    So who is at fault? I think all of us are. One of the first commandments is to raise our children in the ways of the Lord and etch His Words on their hearts. Who among us can say we got an A+ grade on that account?

    I get it many Millennials are stunted and self-absorbed. We say 60 is the new 40, but 25 is the also the new 18. But, rather than judge this generation with being irresponsible, perhaps, we should take just a moment to realize that our children, in many respects, are reflections of our generation’s own excesses and shortfalls.

    They didn’t spend our inheritance, or run up personal and government debt to laughable extremes; that was our generation. So collectively as Boomers do we dare not admit that our current culture mess, societal issues, and the decreased future prospects for our Millennial kids are due to our generation’s mistakes?

    In the end, each boy/man needs to own up and grow up; that is part of life and God’s plan for all of us. One thing to admire about the Millennial generation is that they are seeking meaning and purpose beyond just working 60 hours a week and never ending over consumption. Let’s hope that leads them to the Lord!

    I have faith that just as our parents worried about the hippie/dropout/drug using Boomers that in time grew up; that in time, the Millennials will mature and carry civilization forward.

    I’m not saying we aren’t heading in the wrong direction, we are. As I am sure you have seen before every great civilization goes through predictable phases:

    From bondage to spiritual faith,
    From spiritual faith to great courage,
    From courage to liberty,
    From liberty to abundance,
    From abundance to selfishness,
    From selfishness to complacency,
    From complacency to apathy,
    From apathy to dependency,
    From dependency back again to bondage.”

    Blessings, Ron

    • Craig July 11, 2017 at 11:02 AM - Reply

      Ron, thank you so much for your observations. Man, do I agree—the lack of other-centered maturity we notice in younger men certainly was practiced and perhaps perfected by we Boomers. We have to look in the mirror and acknowledge our own short-comings, as well as our contribution to what’s viewed as typical behavior by men. Good news, we can all be a part of speaking truth into each other’s lives. “Spur one another on to love and good works.”

  10. James Jensen July 10, 2017 at 8:55 PM - Reply

    excellent article Craig I woke up this a.m. with Tennessee Ernie Fords robust voice going on in my mind: Others! Thinking of and praying for others and being so self forgetful being more like Jesus!!!

  11. Bruce Hoover July 11, 2017 at 9:12 AM - Reply

    Excellent, Craig! Well said. As long as the culture continues to reward celebrities, athletes, and the very wealthy for bad, above-the-law behavior, “brilliant jerks” will get a pass. In fact, creative boundary-breaking and self-service are nowadays applauded and admired. But come each man’s day of reckoning, and even the haughtiest of ego-maniacs will be humbled.

    • Craig July 11, 2017 at 10:18 AM - Reply

      Thanks for your input, Bruce. I’m sure you saw both heroic and selfish men over your years in the military.

  12. F Steinberg July 11, 2017 at 9:46 AM - Reply

    King David, son Absalom. Convicting, thanks Craig.

    • Craig July 11, 2017 at 10:16 AM - Reply

      Good to hear from you, Fred!

  13. Cavin July 11, 2017 at 1:25 PM - Reply

    Craig, article well done.. and spot on, unfortunately. As you say in your article, sadly it also applies to a whole lot of older men as well. It’s that ever-expanding problem of adolescence that is growing out of generations of men who were never taught what it means to be a man. That’s why I so appreciate what you are doing with your Passages retreats, though it’s gotta start a whole lot sooner. Maybe you ought to consider doing some retreats with men one Preparing for Passages.

    Anyway, an insightful article. I would add on point #4: You’re going to die… you’re also going to grow old and you can’t stop it (unless. of course, you kill yourself trying to convince yourself otherwise)

    • Craig July 11, 2017 at 2:10 PM - Reply

      Good closer, Cavin! Yes, unfortunately, immature masculinity is not age-dependent. Nor is mature masculinity, now that I think about it. I’ve met many young men who already have the wisdom of a sage, and who are committed to serving and helping others. By the way, in agreement with a previous comment by another man, I notice that this younger generation is noticeably more motivated to help others than we Boomers were at their age.

      Thanks for your contribution, Cavin.

  14. Chris July 13, 2017 at 11:36 AM - Reply

    Nice post Craig. Thank you. From my experience in men’s work and as others have posted, this not only applies to young men, but many men, MOST men. At some point most of us need a big wake-up call, and we have to be ready to step into it. Many of us are asleep and unaware of how our “stuff” leaks out on others unconsciously. That’s been the journey of growing awareness or me.

    I appreciate you sharing what I see are R. Rohr’s five hard “truths” of male initiation (Adam’s Return) and they are important for us, regardless of age.

    Blessings on the work you do and your calling to help men.

    • Craig July 13, 2017 at 11:49 AM - Reply

      You’re absolutely right, Chris. Almost all men are at some point in this journey; ourselves included. How often do we make self-serving choices? If we actually pay attention, we have to admit we do so very frequently. Thanks for contributing to the conversation, Chris, and for your own work with men.

  15. Brian August 6, 2017 at 4:13 PM - Reply

    Amen, and God help me. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m guilty of:
    1. Trying to avoid the difficult.
    2. Thinking I’m in control.
    3. Believing “unique” and “special” are synonymous.
    4. Forgetting my mortality.
    5. Letting selfishness dictate my actions.

    Thanks for holding up the mirror. Ouch.

    • Craig August 7, 2017 at 12:49 PM - Reply

      Brian, did we lose the last part of your comment?

    • Craig August 8, 2017 at 11:12 AM - Reply

      Courageously honest, Brian! Good news, you’re not alone.

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