A few influential leaders are cornering the market on male formation in the United States (and Canada). Their teachings are solid, their approach magnetic and they aren't Catholic. This latter characteristic seems to bother many in the Catholic community who have their nose up in the air about the approach towards the formation of men. However, there is a problem with their disapproval in that...these leaders' approach is working! And working quite well. They have thousands, if not millions in Peterson's case, of social media followers, millions have bought their books and many attend their talks. They have something that we lack, as Catholics, and they have something we need, human formation. Bishop Barron makes the comment that Catholic male formation is lacking a true challenge. Men want a battle, to face danger and struggle, which most of the time means facing themselves.
Jocko Willink, Jordan Peterson and Jim Collins meet this challenge head on. Taking Extreme Ownership, following 12 Rules for Life and going from Good to Great (the three books these men have written among many) might be the integration a man needs in his life for a powerful spiritual life to grow, because it's clear, Jesus is no push over when it comes to confronting men. "The kindgom of Heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force" (Matt 11:12). Jesus softens at the end of Matt 11 with 'restful' words, however this blog aims to break down these three formators to help Catholic men understand that they can learn from non-Catholics. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. There's not much bath water with these 3 men.
Jocko Willink served as a US Navy SEAL on SEAL Team Three's Task Unit Bruiser. His team was essential in the Battle of Ramadi, Iraq, which largely eliminated al-Queda from the city. His book, Extreme Ownership (2017), walks through principles for life and business by relating them to stories from Ramadi. Each chapter includes a story from their time in war, a principle mined out of their experience and then practically applying it to business (and life). The first principle he talks about is extreme ownership, which is a sort of radical humility in virtue terms. As a husband, father, leader in business and other areas of my life (coaching 7th grade basketball!), if things go wrong, I have to take a hard look at myself instead of passing blame, deflecting and outward defensiveness. If my wife is upset with me, I probably did something. If my kid is acting out, how have I been treating him? If a teammate is confused, then I didn't explain the project well enough. This doesn't mean false humility in which we own other peoples mistakes, but it's a practical way to work out the virtue of humility and allow our pride and ego to be checked and sometimes squashed. It seems that this is most integrated with the Sacrament of Confession. In facing how we miss the mark, doing penance and making it right, Extreme Ownership is a bedrock principle for a man.
Jordan Peterson is a renowned psychologist, author and online educator. He has taught at prestigious universities, published numerous scientific papers, and developed online programs that help individuals explore their personalities and improve their lives (jordanpeterson.com). His breadth of knowledge is far beyond this blog article's scope, thus we will drill into a podcast from early 2023 entitled 'The Case Against the Sexual Revolution' (ep 331). A striking dynamic he flushes out includes the relationship dance between men and women, how the two genders negotiate and what it means to be mature. For females, a sophisticated woman knows how to say 'no.' Seems simple enough, however many women's no's have been taken away, a cultural dynamic too deep for this blog. Thus, to speak the word 'no' to a man, mean it and follow through with it, whether it be for a date, sex or finding her voice, is essential to maturing. This 'no' needs to be heard by a man and pushes against his tendency for aggression. A smart woman will push that line to see if he is truly a monster or if he can 'sheath his sword,' still carry it and protect the people important to him. What a challenge for a male! If he's too passive, a tyrant will take over, yet if he's a monster, he'll abuse and use people. 'Anger integrated is determination,' says Peterson. A man must face himself in a community of other men, he should face his anger and what has truly made him angry in his life to find the virtue of clemency, gentleness and courage.
Jim Collins is a 'student and teacher of what makes great companies tick, and a Socratic advisor to leaders in the business and social sectors.' With more than 25 years of rigorous research by Jim and his team, he has authored and co-authored a series of books that have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. The principles mined out from his research are deeply Christian, however not a single word is said about faith. This is no judgment on his part and this makes for an easy integration between his human formation and spiritual growth. In his book, How the Mighty Fall (2009), he describes the Doom Loop. When a business is in decline, the leaders might not notice, due to the first stage being Hubris Born of Success. A pride sets into the company, believing that anything they touch will turn to gold. Thus, the next step is Undisciplined Pursuit of More. In my arrogance, I overreach. I think I can expand the business into other products, other business sectors and take on a heaping amount of work. When one is overextended, next comes Denial. A denial of the pressure on the budget, overworked employees and lack of quality control. These first three steps are hard to see, but once someone starts to shake the tree and notice the problems, then Grasping for Salvation emerges. Find the silver bullet, hire the charismatic savior and launch a shiny idea might be the answer. And when these don't work, Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death is stage 5.
If we look hard at these stages, they are quite personal for a male. Pride is the first deadly sin (reminder, sin is missing the mark) for a man. In arrogance and sin, he thinks he can and should do more to prove himself. This undisciplined pursuit of more leads to a denial of certain areas of life falling apart, such as work problems, marital dissolution or harming others. A man in this kind of darkness might search for the silver bullet, such as overspending, pornography or Netflix binging. The end might look like divorce, depression or children not speaking to dad anymore.
In conclusion, it's important to know the downward spiral to avoid it! And if someone is in the doom loop, as we all dip into this at points in our lives, there is a way out! The Lord wants to give us the grace of Extreme Ownership to remain humble. In this way the human person can operate out of being fully human as male or female. With the foundation of human formation, our spiritual life can flourish and God's love has a resting place. "My soul was floodlit by a Light that space cannot contain," says Saint Augustine.
Peace, Michael Ciaccio MS, LPC, SATP