Field Notes

Sinek's Golden Circle in the High Sierra

Oct 28
Sinek's Golden Circle in the High Sierra
Posted October 28, 2014


Turning Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle Inside Out

Or the Why of Masculine Spirituality

In the summer of 2014, high in the granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, in the Ansel Adam Wilderness, men wrestled with the faith and reason of leadership. Each evening, following days of moving rocks weighing hundreds or even thousand of pounds, building trails for horses, mules and backpackers, masculine brawn gave way to Fides et Ratio. The men traveled a deeper trail into their intellects and souls, asking questions our ancient fathers pondered while sitting around primordial campfires, searching the expanse of starlit nights. Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? What should I do? How should I do it? These are the penetrating and difficult questions of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.

Simon Sinek is a present day leadership consultant; some would call him a guru. In the realm of business and entrepreneurship he makes people think in ways that they are not used to. He starts with the “What”.  What is it you do? He then moves to the “How”. How do you do it? Then he drills into the “Why”. Why do you do what you do?

For example, take a car company, like GM or Ford. The “What” is “We make cars and trucks”. The “How” can be answered by describing each company’s manufacturing processes. The “Why” however can be simplistic or deep. If the answer to the “Why” is that of the traditional multinational corporation “To maximize shareholder stock value”, which basically means we are in for the money, Sinek would say “That’s not good enough”. In fact he would tell you that answer is superficial, unappealing and has no heart and soul. Unfortunately most businesses and organizations in the world today answer these questions in the same way.  They aren’t asking the deeper questions of the primordial campfire.

As Catholic men we need to ask these same questions. The answers to the “What” may be ones like “I am a priest” or “I am a seminarian discerning the priesthood”, or “I am a single man living a consecrated life” or “I am a husband and father”. The “How” answers may run like: “I bring the sacraments and homilies to the laypeople”, or “I attend seminary and am forming myself with the 4 pillars of formation” or “I provide for a family”.

And what about the “Why”? The answers may be “I have a calling” “I think I may have a calling” and “Heck, I don’t know I just stumbled through life and ended up here.” Are these the real “Whys”? Should they be, or is there a deeper “Why”?


A few years ago I visited with a priest at a retreat center. We took morning walks together and talked about things like the One, the True, the Good and the Beautiful. I asked Father on one of our walks, why he became a priest. Belying the depth of our other conversations he answered “Three squares a day and no heavy lifting”. Frankly I find this as irritating as the smug and entitled attitude revealed in the statement “these hands were made for chalices, not callouses”. It is soft, weak and unmanly. Of course the laymen’s response of “heck, I don’t know I just stumbled through life and ended up here” though honest, is also not motivated by a “Why” in pursuit of a radical and courageous life of manly virtue.

More recently a good priest and friend of mine revealed “I knew that I wanted to become a priest at the age of 12 when I encountered the old Jedi warrior Obie Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars movie, fighting to the death for an ancient, true and disappearing religion.” This is profoundly much closer to a powerful “Why” for how we choose our vocation as Roman Catholic men.

The pursuit of the deeper “Why” leads us back to Fides et Ratio. How does it figure into the hunt for a “Why” with grit, gravitas and magnanimity?

God owns the entire universe, and where there is truth there is our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity. Our faith prefigures the knowledge of science and culture. This is the heart and spirit of Fides et Ratio. Two indicators of this are the Big Bang Theory elucidated by Monsignor Georges Lemaitre and the discovery of Adam and Eve by genetic science. In the first, Monsignor Lemaitre used Einstein’s theory of General Relativity to show that in accordance with Judeo Christian Theology, the universe didn’t always exist but was “created” out of nothingness. In the second, genetic science has discovered that all of humanity alive on the earth today has one common male and one common female ancestor. Not only do we find truth in faith and science but as well in mathematics, social sciences and in the laws of entrepreneurship and leadership discovered in the world of business and commerce. Yes there is truth hidden in the secular culture, fogged in by the dictatorship of relativism. One of a man’s fundamental skills is finding it and mining it out. This is why it is important for us to discover and learn the leadership principles of men like Stephen Covey, Peter Senge and Simon Sinek.

Back to the High Sierra and turning Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle inside out.

Sitting around the campfire at night, Father and I weren’t giving the seminarians an easy pass. You don’t get a certificate of participation on a wilderness expedition. You earn respect from other men and your self-esteem with effort and hard work. As the men searched their hearts and minds for the deeper “Why” of being a seminarian and becoming a priest, the Holy Spirit planted a thought in my weak and lazy mind; Is it possible that the deeper “Why” actually starts by discovering a deeper fundamental “What”? In formulating the Big Bang, Lemaitre discovered the “What” of Einstein’s  Theory of General Relativity; namely that everything that exists is a creation or creature. Understanding our fundamental “What” or teleos then, informs us of what our fundamental “why” should be.

As men, the Golden Circle of our being and doing is this: “What” are we? We are male creatures created by God. “How” did God create us? With specific masculine skills and desires. “Why” did God create us? To embrace, train for and accomplish a special masculine duty and mission.  Our faith and reason reveals these truths to us. The biology and the teleology of a man’s body shows that our specific masculine skills and desires are for discovery, creation and battle.  Men possess a skill and desire to discover and understand the hidden mysteries of God’s universe. Men have a skill and desire for taking that hard fought for knowledge and creating and building with it. And through and with those first two desires, men have woven in the fabric of their being a desire for battle; an honorable struggle, an heroic effort and a fight against evil in defense of the One, Good, True and Beautiful.

Finally the mission and duty of all men is that they use these skills and desires to evangelize, provide for and protect God’s people and build the kingdom of God here and now. Whether you are a priest, seminarian, consecrated single or married laymen with children, all that you do is for this mission and duty.

How will you answer our Lord’s call?