What Simon Didn’t Say

 

There’s a youtube video being shared around talking about Millennials. Definitely worth watching. In it, a man named Simon Sinek gives a fifteen-minute sermon about millennials.

Was that word choice weird for you?

Yes, it was a sermon. Granted, it wasn’t an expressly Christian sermon, but it was a discourse identifying a problem, giving supports for the cause of that problem, and then giving application points to solve that problem. That’s a sermon.

Like lots of sermons, he got some things right and some things wrong. Also like lots of sermons, he would have gotten even more right if he had gone to the source of truth, God and his word.

So, allow me to do a sermon review, as I so often do with friends on a Sunday afternoon at lunch. What were the high points and low-points of Simon Sinek’s sermon?

I’ll sum it up with this phrase: An impressive mix of right on the money in some cases and completely missing the target in others.

Sermon Review

Sermon Outline

Something to get in the habit of doing when listening to speakers is identify their outline. Good speakers will give you their outline, if not outright verbally or on a sheet of paper, then by delivery. They’ll pause after their major points and repeat them for emphasis. They’ll give you cue phrases like “That’s because…” and “To say it another way…” These let you know when they are building on, explaining, or contrasting ideas they’ve presented.

Simon actually gives his outline at the 1:15 mark. He gives four things to explain why millennials behave the way they do (particularly in the workplace). They are:

  • Parenting
  • Technology
  • Impatience
  • Environment

So, using this information, and the sermon as a whole, I’ve reconstructed his sermon outline thusly:

  1. Diagnosing the Millennial problem
    • Perception of millennials
    • Leadership response to millennials
    • Millennial response to leadership answers
  2. The four characteristics that produced the problem
    • Parenting
      1. “Failed Parenting strategies”
        • Told they were special
        • Told they could have anything
        • Honors without work
        • participation medals
      2. Real world impact on self esteem
      3. technology facilitates false identities – negatively affects self-esteem
    •  Technology
      1. dopamine release from technological interaction
      2. dopamine “facts”
      3. Dopamine interaction through adolescence
        • illustration: alcohol dependence from stress
        • illustration: technology dependence from stress
      4. Balance is the answer to addiction
    •  Impatience
      1. Constant gratification
        • amazon
        • movies
        • binge-watching
        • tinder
      2. Job satisfaction and strength of relationships: No instant gratification
      3. Things that matter take time
        • worst case scenario: depression and suicide
        • best case scenario: apathy
    •  Environment
      1. Corporate environments are numerical instead of relational
      2. Millennials blame themselves
        • It’s not them
        • Lack of leadership
        • Company’s responsibility to pick up slack
  3. Application Points
    • No cell-phones in conference rooms
    • forming relationships “the little things”
    • One cell-phone at dinner
    • charge phone in living room

 

I must point out that this video is obviously part of a larger segment or series on a talk show. I found a longer video (linked here) that cuts to him giving the same sermon on a different talk show, but I couldn’t find the context of the segment everyone’s sharing. It’s always dangerous to evaluate something that’s been pulled out of context, so this is my disclaimer: I’ve just gone by what’s in the 15-minute video linked and embedded at the top of this page. If someone can find the fuller context of the show, I’d appreciate it.

That said, on with the review. I’ll go through the outline’s major points.

Diagnosing the Problem

I think he diagnoses the problem fairly well. One thing I like, he defines terms. He says millennials are “a group of people born approximately 1984 and after.” He says the problem is that “apparently millennials… are tough to manage. They’re accused of being entitled, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused, lazy… but entitled is the big one.” I think he’s right. You don’t have to look too hard in any major news source to see references to millennials and the opinion expressed that they are entitled, etc.

Note that he says “apparently” and that they are “accused of being…” He hasn’t yet said if he thinks this is correct, just that this is the popular opinion.

He then talks about companies who ask millennials what they want, they tell the companies what they want, the companies give the millennials what they said they wanted, and the millennials still aren’t “happy” or to interpret a bit for Simon, the millennials don’t shed the stereotype of entitled, etc. after being given what they said they want.

Parenting

At this point Simon starts making his assertions. He starts telling the viewer WHY millennials are perceived in this way. I’ll go ahead and tip my hand a bit and say that I believe millennials largely ARE this way. There are plenty of exceptions and I do think millennials get hammered a little hard, stereotyped a little too quickly and broadly by the Boomers and Gen-Xers, but millennials largely do deserve such descriptions.

Simon virtually says the same thing. He softens the blow by making jokes and repeating the phrase (he says it at least three times) “Through no fault of their own.” (I’ll get to that.)

His first supporting point under parenting is the “failed parenting strategies.” (He says those aren’t his words, but he does use that quotation to sum up.)

I think he shines here in diagnosing some big problems from the upbringing of the millennial generation. The things he lists (participation trophies, being told they were special, kids getting good grades who didn’t work for them, etc.) are prime examples of bad circumstances and terrible ways to raise children. Some others that should be added to the list, that I doubt Simon would want added, are things like “Most kids didn’t get spanked when they misbehaved,” “Many kids didn’t have two parent, mother and father, homes,” and “Most kids weren’t modeled the ways of God or taught the word of God.” These factors are also major contributors to the problem of the millennial generation and their inefficiencies in the workplace.

But again, he does a great job with what he mentions. He sums up the point that when kids raised in this way get to the “real world” (which I’ll define as “the way of life where humans are expected to be self-sufficient adults who provide for themselves, in past generation begun to be lived at life markers such as high-school graduation or the twenty-first birthday.”) their self-esteem shatters.

This is the first minor disagreement I had with Simon. (Hey I made it 2 minutes and 30 seconds into the video before I disagreed!) He says that this culminates in low self-esteem. I don’t disagree with that as the result, but I disagree with the underlying assumption that low self-esteem is inherently a bad thing that needs to be corrected.

Let me give you the Christian view of self-esteem: It’s ridiculous and sinful.

Look at the word and think through what it means: self-esteem. To “esteem” something means to prop-up, or regard highly. Does not the word “pride” seem like an appropriate synonym when you do that to yourself?

Self-esteem is regarding yourself well. Well… Christianity teaches that you are a sinner, rebelling against God, destined for hell without His gracious intervention. The Bible says your heart is deceitfully wicked, corrupt. God made you in his own image, but that image was marred by your new defining characteristic: sin. It must be dealt with. Thankfully, it has been. That’s the gospel message.

All that to say, I don’t care about your self-esteem. In fact, I want Christians to be as Paul and consider themselves nothing (2 Cor 12:11), accounting their lives as worthless (Acts 20:24) considering the things of this life as human excrement (σκυβαλον, skubalon… google it. It’s an interesting word.)(Phil 3:8) when compared to the glory and knowledge of Christ.

I don’t like ruining people’s language without giving them an alternative, so instead of talking about self-esteem, try self-worth, or even better, self-evaluation. These terms bring along the idea of recognizing the reality that we are sinners, while also recognizing that Christ’s sacrificial act on the cross saves us from what we deserve. In spite of the reality of our sinfulness, God loved us and sent his son to die for us.

Being all down on yourself for no reason is ridiculous, but being down on yourself because of your sin and then holding your head high because of Christ’s perfection being imputed to you (in place of your sin) is marvelous.

Technology

Most of the technology portion revolves around the idea of dopamine addiction, but before that, Simon makes a statement that rubs me wrong.

When talking about how good we are at putting filters up for the world to make our lives look better than they are, he says, “So everybody sounds tough. And everybody sounds like they got it all figured out. And the reality is, there is very little toughness and most people don’t have it figured out.” He then makes a joke about the “more senior people” giving advice when they “have no clue.”

I don’t know what he meant by “more senior people” but I don’t like the assumption that most people “don’t have it figured out” and most people giving advice “have no clue.” Simon doesn’t really believe that either… because he’s in the middle of giving advice on what to do!

Here’s an assertion of my own: flippant rejection of advice from a senior human (be it senior in age, rank, or experience) is wickedly arrogant, prideful (i.e. sinful). It is just that sort of flippancy (which he gets a laugh out of) which is part of the problem of millennials. It’s that sort of PRIDE that makes millennials hard to work with. That joke itself is making fun of the fact that we don’t know everything, while at the same time disregarding knowledge that could help us! Isn’t it ironic?

(*** After posting this review, my friend Navya pointed out that I may have misheard and misinterpreted this joke, and I think he may be right, so let me give that understanding of the interaction. Navya said, “I thought he was joking about senior leaders asking for advice/help in terms of reaching a millennial and the millennial pretending as if they knew how to fix the problem. Your post seems to reflect that the senior member is giving the advice.” After listening through a few more times, I think he may be right. The uncertainty of meaning comes  from the word “they” in the phrase “they sound like, ‘well this is what you’ve gotta do,’ … and they have no clue.” “They” has no clear referent. When I was reviewing, I thought the referent was to the nearest noun, being “the more senior people,” but it seems very likely that the “they” refers to the millennials who are “good at showing everyone that life is amazing even though I’m depressed.” I’m definitely willing to give Simon the benefit of the doubt on this one, but I figured the best course of action would be to leave the original review with this note slipped in.)

On to dopamine. Much of what he says in this section I agree with. I’ve done a little bit of research on dopamine when dealing with my own porn addiction. (The “science” in that world blames dopamine too!)

Now, I don’t want to disregard what he says about dopamine, but I also think he puts a little too much stock in it, all in an attempt to displace responsibility from the millennials. There may be a link between the release of dopamine and the effects of social media, but here’s the problem: everyone has dopamine.

Dopamine is a chemical produced BY the body, it is part of God’s design. Simon makes the rather ridiculous parallel of “when you get it (a like or a text) you get a hit of dopamine which feels good. That’s why we like it and we keep going back to it. Dopamine is the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, when we drink, and when we gamble.” (He leaves out sex which triggers a bigger dopamine release than any of these.) “…In other words, its highly, highly addictive.” He strongly implies that getting a text is the same as drinking alcohol.

I went and found the study he was referring to that says social media produces dopamine doses. Here’s the link. Let me summarize the reality: the centers in the brain that produce dopamine (i.e. the “regions that form the mesolimbic dopamine system”) show increased activation at self-disclosure, as in, talking about your own opinions. Simon doesn’t take into account degree or amount of activation occurring, he also doesn’t explain what is actually happening very accurately.

All that to say, it’s wrong to equate the dopamine system activation that comes from getting a text, with that of drinking alcohol. Those two haven’t been demonstrated to be the same in degree.

AND, just because a section of the brain is activated, it doesn’t displace responsibility for actions taken that caused such activation, or responses to such activation.

Meaning, If I get a dopamine release because I see a pretty girl (which is scientifically proven to happen) I am still culpable legally and morally if I rape that girl, I’m still culpable morally if I lust after that girl, I’m still culpable spiritually if I sin, period and full stop.

Let me sum it up this way, stop blaming dopamine for your own actions.

I don’t think Simon is trying to do that. He actually treats it seriously and implies often throughout that we are responsible for addressing this addiction AS an addiction. I agree with him on that. I just hear this kind of blame shifting a lot in Christian circles, particularly in the fight with porn addiction, and I’m tired of people blaming dopamine for their sin. It reeks of Genesis 3:12-13, “The woman you gave me… the serpent said… The dopamine dose…” Stop shifting the blame.

I don’t care what bad circumstances you’ve been dealt, I care how you react to them. Is it a holy reaction or an unholy one?

Simon makes what I consider his best point next, and he gets it straight from Aristotle. He talks about how millennials get habituated into turning to social media because they don’t know how to form deep meaningful relationships. He then says, “Alcohol is not bad, too much alcohol is bad. Gambling is fun, too much gambling is dangerous. Right? There’s nothing wrong with social media and cell-phones, it’s the imbalance.”

In Christianity, this is one of the cardinal virtues, namely, temperance. I give a hearty amen to encouraging the practice of temperance. I wish that it were done with a proper motivation in mind (pursuing the glory of God) but I’ll take what I can get.

Impatience

Again, Simon gets it largely right here. The millennials have grown up in a world of instant gratification. This, I believe, is Simon’s second best point.

He says, “Everything you want, you can have instantaneously. Everything you want, instant gratification. Except: job satisfaction, and strength of relationships. There ain’t no app for that. They are slow, meandering, messy processes.” Again, I think he leaves out a few things in his “except” and it’s because he’s not a Christian (or at least, not coming at this from a Christian worldview) and so he misses the mark slightly.

There is a major “except” that he left out. The bible calls it, simply, “life.” Again, it’s not something you can get instantaneously, it’s something that everyone wants, and there definitely isn’t an app for it.

“Life” in this context refers not to the biological process of having a beating heart and a working respiratory system. “Life” in this sense refers to what humans had in the garden between Genesis 2 and Genesis 3. It’s what we lost. We traded it in for its opposite: death. The only way to get life is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is by believing in (meaning trusting, loving, following, obeying, enjoying) Jesus of Nazareth that we may have life in his name. It’s also an 80 some-odd year messy process, that is painful and tough, but in the end produces joy and glory beyond compare.

Unfortunately, obtaining and living on job satisfaction and strength of relationships will still see you safely and comfortably to hell.

So, this is a false gospel Simon preaches. He suggests that job satisfaction and strength of relationships will produce joy, and he conveniently ignores the gaping hole of death, hell, that awaits all people if not for the intercession of the triune God. If that hole isn’t filled with something, there can be no joy.

(I realize he leaves these things out either because he’s speaking in a secular context or more likely because he doesn’t believe them… and unfortunately the gospel he’s preaching will fail even him. If this is the gospel he bets his life on, he will get near the end of it and he will no longer have a job, his earthly relationships will have all died off, and he will have nothing left to bring him joy. This is why the true gospel is oh so important to the discussion of purpose, love, and joy and why I bring it up here.)

However, I love the analogy that he uses of a mountain and the fact that “things that really, really, matter take time,” and so millennials need to learn patience. A hearty amen to that point.

Environment

Simon then strongly insinuates that companies are also to blame for this millennial problem.

He says that we take this group of kids “and we put them in corporate environments that care more about the numbers than they do about the kids. They care more about the short-term gains than the long-term life of this young human being.”

I think he misses the point here, and it might be that I’m missing the larger context.

This talk might be given in the context of “What can businesses do to make Millennials function better at work?” If that’s the context, the points he makes here are fine and dandy. He’s essentially answering the question by saying, “You as a company need to recognize these relational and patience-related deficiencies and make up for them appropriately with the work environment you provide.”

However, without that larger context, he seems to suggest that it’s the company’s fault and the company’s responsibility to provide these things for millennials, and they are morally wrong if they do not do so. Guess what: They’re not!

Yes, it’s good for a company to provide a good environment, but it’s not their job to be parents to kids. If they don’t want to provide these over and above helps, they don’t have to, and shouldn’t be expected to do so in order to have employees who do their jobs. Companies are formed to perform a task, and if a generation of employees can’t do the task, then the companies need to find other employees who can. It’s not the company’s fault these kids won’t grow up.

He says, “We are putting them in corporate environments that aren’t helping them build their confidence, that aren’t helping them learn the skills of cooperation, that aren’t helping them overcome the challenges of a digital world and finding more balance…” etc.

Well, if you’re working at cooperation-digital-world-overcomers incorporated, then you have a point. If you’re working for a company that designs shoes, you don’t have a point. Shoe design companies don’t make it their business to help kids who were raised poorly find confidence and fulfillment. That’s the kid’s job. Shoe design companies design shoes.

The responsibility to help millennials develop their under-developed social skills rests solely on the millennials themselves, and its exactly this kind of “someone else is responsible for me” attitude that is the problem!

He actually goes so far as to say “The worst part about it is they think it’s them. They blame themselves. They think it’s them who can’t deal. And so, it makes it all worse. It’s not. I’m here to tell them: It’s not them. It’s the corporations.” That is just plain wrong. Again, I don’t care what your circumstances are, I care how you react to them.

Again, I think I might be missing some context, because he does say that he wishes the society did a better job so this is just what companies have to do to pick up the slack. He’s simply being pragmatic. Unfortunately, he’s still wrong. It’s not the company’s innate responsibility to fix what parents did wrong. It’s the millennial’s responsibility.

Application

His points of application, however, are all spot-on. They are all helpful things you can do to fix the problems of under-developed social skills, and technology addiction. There is nothing wrong with taking practical steps to solve a problem, but I must repeat that those steps will be in vain if the larger issue of sin and death are not first dealt with. It makes no difference that you kicked your facebook addiction if you still end up in hell. It’s rearranging the furniture on the deck of the titanic. Deal with the big problem first. Believe the gospel and become a disciple of Jesus Christ that you might have life and have it abundantly, then dealing with the technology addiction will be worthwhile and a joy, instead of one more good intention with which to pave the road to hell.

 

Some Things that Should stick out

That’s my point-by-point sermon review. Now then, I’d like to give some advice on worldview thinking. There are a lot of things in this sermon that should stick out to the Christian ear. You should take note of these sorts of things when listening to any sermon, particularly a secular one. The three that were prevalent in this video were: (1) “The science is clear” (2) “Through no fault of their own.” (3) Jokes about sin.

“The science is clear.”

This phrase tells you a lot about someone’s worldview, particularly when you hear what they use it about. First of all, it tells you that they trust science as a source of truth, but they haven’t defined science. I trust actual science as a source of truth as well, but the vast majority of what goes by the name “science” today is not, in fact, science.

Since I’m already seven pages in, I’ll give you the short version of this rant and save the long version for another post. Suffice it to say that science is a process of study that tells you what things actually do, it does not tell you where things come from, how things got where they did, what things have happened, or why things are the way they are. This is not a knock on science, it just has a specific function and lots of people forget this. “Science” and “scientists” have become magical words that carry the weight of authority with no basis.

Thankfully, Simon’s references to science in this sermon were all largely correct though he delved into the soft-sciences (or as I like to call them, arts) when he talked about adolescence and brains being “hard-wired” etc, He didn’t go too far off track, so I thank him for that. It’s just a phrase that should perk up the ears of a Christian when they hear it bandied about, much the way some Christians use the phrase “God says” without quoting a biblical passage: it’s just factually incorrect.

“Through no fault of their own.”

I’ve mentioned this throughout, but it bears repeated emphasis. Whenever someone claims that someone has “no fault” in a situation, it’s a pretty good guess that they have some fault in that situation. Millennials are not faultless. Again, it’s not your circumstances, but how you react to them. Millennials are, by and large, reacting horribly to their bad parenting and technology circumstances. They ARE at fault. Not entirely, but indeed partially. Quit passing the buck.

Jokes about Sin

Two of the laughs Simon got were actually about two big sins: pride and gluttony. Did you miss them? The first was mentioned earlier, when he jokes about “senior people having no clue” what they were talking about. I already explained the pride that was so hysterical there. [*** this also may be a poor interpretation of the joke. Refer to the insert in the review beginning “(*** After posting this review…”]

The second was when he talked about binge-watching. He says, “I know people who skip seasons, just so they can binge at the end of the season.” There’s actually an audible awkward chuckle, and the video cuts to a millennial woman laughing and nodding along enthusiastically, as if to say, “I do that!” Guess what? Binge-watching is a sin, it’s the sin of gluttony. If you sit down and do nothing but consume entertainment for five or six hours in a row, that is wrong and it should be repented of. There’s nothing wrong with watching an episode, or even two or three if you are having a day of rest, but literally sitting down through an entire season of a series, practically comatose, is contrary to our design and an abuse of the pleasure of audio-visual entertainment.

And the worst of it is, these sins are merely a joke in this sermon. The things for which we are destined to hell without the grace of God, are mentioned to lighten the mood of a secular sermon. This should be sobering and scary to the Christian ear. But that’s another post for another time.

Conclusion

So, that’s my sermon analysis. Take from it what you want and let me know your thoughts if you had the stamina to read the whole thing. I always appreciate feedback.

 

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