Why does working in an office sap us of our courage?

 Why does working in an office sap us of our courage?

I can’t figure this out and it’s making me crazy.

Why is it that working in an office seems to sap us of our courage?

Maybe it doesn’t sap you of your courage and if that’s the case you’re lucky or tougher than I am but for some reason it seems to me that the grind of working in a bureaucracy and having a soft job takes it all out of a lot of us.

Why is that?

I think maybe it’s because we don’t have to make mistakes to succeed.

Let me see if I can explain.


First of all, I don’t have this figured out.

And I feel a little embarrassed about the name Authentic Masculinity for the company I started, but more on that in due course.

One of the best men I know, in fact, one of the men I call My Ten Best Men came to a Bond Fire about a year ago and said as he was staring into the fire that working in a bureaucracy was turning him into a weaker man.

I wondered long and hard about that and wonder about it still.

Here in Virginia there’s a lot of snow falling and I lay awake early this morning enjoying the fact that I was warm inside with my wife and children but it’s always fascinated me that we are separated from brutal cold and crushing conditions by this thin sheet of glass.

But more on that, too, at a later date.

But I woke up this morning trying to think through why it is that we get ground down by doing things that are safe and predictable.


What can we learn from Mr. Incredible?

When we become good bureaucrats it seems we lose something central to being who we are. You hear a lot, you read a lot about lives of quiet desperation and becoming little grey men in raincoats. My favorite example of this from modern entertainment is Mr. Huff in “The Incredibles.”

Mr. Huff is Bob Parr’s boss. Bob works at an insurance company and is doing a heroic bureaucratic thing by helping an old lady with her claim. He tells her how to circumvent the insurance company bureaucracy.

Mr. Huff, a small man, controls Bob and tries unsuccessfully to reduce Bob to an insignificant man. Bob ultimately throws Huff through all the cubicle dividers and gets fired, of course.

It’s a great movie. I love that movie.

If you remember, Bob Parr is a Super. He has super powers.

We all have super powers. Learning how to access them is the stuff of magic and enables us to regain our lives.

Bob Parr has to keep his super powers hidden because using them scares others and his powers are at their finest, he is at his finest, when he is living his life out to its fullest.

Rescuing, fighting, laughing, taking on the bad guys and helping the weak and innocent.


Vital powers exercised along lines of excellence in a big, big life.

It reminds me of my absolute favorite definition of happiness, which is, “The exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope.”

Vital powers. Lines of excellence.

A life affording them scope.

We are meant to live big lives and do our best and exercise our most vital powers.

Bureaucracies don’t let us do that. They crush us because over the course of time we make increasingly less important decisions that are safer and safer and safer. And if we become good bureaucrats we seem to have lost something that makes us better men.

I know you may not care, but I launched Authentic Masculinity because I want to encourage men. I chose the name Authentic Masculinity not because I think I am authentically masculine but because we are at our best when we are connecting in an authentic way and living lives of authenticity in the sense that we are working it out in the company of other men and facing our demons and trying to be better.

Better every day.

It’s not complicated but it’s hard as hell and we make mistakes and we get up again and we try the next day.

If that describes you I admire you. Don’t quit and don’t think nobody notices because somebody does. They are all around you and they’re watching you and need your good example so keep going.

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8 Responses to Why does working in an office sap us of our courage?

  1. Michael W. says:

    While I certainly agree that working in an office/bureaucracy can sap some from their courage, I believe that you, like me, have not had our courage sapped. Instead, I believe we are working professionally within the work environment, we pick our battles, say what we must when we must, and hold our tongues other times. If we through the BS flag too much at work, then the BS flag loses its effectiveness and we risk being branded as a “troublemaker”. However, if we speak up when an issue truly warrants our intercession, we can be effective. So I don’t think my/our courage has been sapped, I just think we are simply acting prudently.

    • slmcgurk says:

      Mike my Senior Chinese Instructor told me once when I turned to him for advice, “The most difficult form of courage to master is the courage to endure,” and when I read your comment that’s what I thought of. There are hundreds of thousands of men who endure and persevere in good judgment and prudence at jobs in difficult bureaucracies to feed their families and be good, faithful members of systems that may be broken, though of course, too, not all bureaucracies are broken to the same degree and some are quite good. I am a big believer in prudence and not being foolhardy. To be effective we must be credible… and had you not been serving a bureaucracy I was in I probably would not have survived! Yes. Quiet professionalism and prudence. I just seem to see, too, though, that the trend is to a worsening of bureaucratic soul crushing… and men are needed more than ever to push back just a little…or even just to be present in those situations that require calm.

  2. Danny Gogal says:


    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’d say the issue is not tied to just office bureaucracies, but it is a condition of society overall. One could say that if we are too comfortable and too at peace with the World then it is more likely than not that we are not living an authentic Christian life. For those who are not familiar with the men’s program ‘That Man is You” it is all about being an authentic male Christian witness and leader in our homes, communities, and throughout our entire society. It also includes good social science data to help clarify various conditions in our society and provide information that can be used to help inform secular society about the wisdom behind God’s intended way of living for human beings. We need to be reminded (I certainly do at times) that we are not be of this World, but live fully in this World as men giving witness to the authentic teaching of Christ…which does not necessitate the “blowing of our horns,” but a willingness to speak the truth when asked and to correct misunderstandings when they arise, especially regarding the teachings of Christ and His Church, which requires us to know the teachings, and to be witness. One of the greatest opportunities for this is the annual March for Life. It can indeed be lonely living this way, and one can be (expect to be) isolated, rejected or outright ridiculed and ostracized…which reminds me of how someone else was treated. We certainly can’t live as authentic Christians on our own, but can do so through God’s graces and the individuals He puts in our lives to help us be men of conviction and courage. Although I have never attended one of your Saturday night fires, I am appreciative of the invites and I get inspired when I am reminded that you gather with men for the purpose of supporting and challenging us to be “authentically masculine.” Keep it up. Enjoy the snow!

    • slmcgurk says:

      Danny, thank you and yes, the problems are in no way limited to bureaucracies. What I find fascinating is that the world needs precisely what people ridicule and it is only men who can provide it. My bride has a wonderful saying, “We can’t see right when doing wrong,” and I think these are the dire straits the world is in… so many of us are doing wrong that we cannot see right, we cannot see clearly. I am so grateful for the accountability of men who have a commitment to objective truth that doesn’t change when we want it to… when I have wanted it to. It’s stubborn and makes ME change. Alternately, what I find so encouraging, on the other hand, are the many men’s groups that seem to be springing up. That Man Is You is a great example of men responding to this crisis of masculinity. The Catholic Church has all the answers, of course, and they can be hard, gritty Truths, but that’s the way it is sometimes. Where I think I may have erred in the past is in hitting men over the head with the Truth when they are trapped in lifestyles (I know I myself have been and could again if I am not careful) that render reason impossible. In those cases we are all attracted to the Good and the Beautiful and then, with Grace, Truth follows after the link is made. That’s that question you suggest, I think… when people ask… based on trust and respect and nonjudgmentalism…but not compromise, which is itself tough. I learned a great saying in sales, “No relationship, no rules,” and I think, too, where we can really be effective is in building those relationships. That’s why I like what you write about speaking the Truth when asked. I was on the outside of the Church and desperately wanted what I saw other Catholic teenagers had… when I was a teenager… and I asked and loved the answers they gave way back in 1977, even if the answers made me a little uncomfortable… I knew my life was a mess. Thank you for the kind words and the encouragement. I will hit “reply” on this and publish it, trusting you to disentangle anything I have not said well.

  3. Russell Carolla says:

    Spot on. I never really thought about it that way, but I think it was a contributing factor to my leaving Goodyear.

    • slmcgurk says:

      Russ, thank you. There are a lot of courageous men in bureaucracies and there’s a certain valor in persevering… but I think overall it’s very tough and getting tougher. What I would like to see if attention paid… in bureaucracies… to men who want to stay and serve them… So the good men do not leave.

  4. Bret F says:

    A Psalm of Life
    Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
    Life is but an empty dream!—
    For the soul is dead that slumbers,
    And things are not what they seem.

    Life is real! Life is earnest!
    And the grave is not its goal;
    Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
    Was not spoken of the soul.

    Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
    Is our destined end or way;
    But to act, that each to-morrow
    Find us farther than to-day.

    Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
    And our hearts, though stout and brave,
    Still, like muffled drums, are beating
    Funeral marches to the grave.

    In the world’s broad field of battle,
    In the bivouac of Life,
    Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
    Be a hero in the strife!

    Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
    Let the dead Past bury its dead!
    Act,—act in the living Present!
    Heart within, and God o’erhead!

    Lives of great men all remind us
    We can make our lives sublime,
    And, departing, leave behind us
    Footprints on the sands of time;

    Footprints, that perhaps another,
    Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
    A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
    Seeing, shall take heart again.

    Let us, then, be up and doing,
    With a heart for any fate;
    Still achieving, still pursuing,
    Learn to labor and to wait.

    • slmcgurk says:

      Bret it’s nice to see that wonderful, powerful poem in its entirety. I had only ever really memorized the final four lines… but they are even better when I read them as the final stanza of such a beautiful piece of masculine writing. Thank you.

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