The day after Christmas I received an email from a married man with a young kids disgruntled about the dynamics within his extended family. The brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, in-laws all gathered again this year for their annual Christmas event. But this man began to notice something different—something irritating.

“There used to be a bond among us and a spirit of getting along, but the last eight years or so we have a competitive spirit. You cannot tell anybody anything… There is this thinking that ‘I know more than you so you cannot tell me nothing.’ We used to be close cousins and now we are competitive.”

“My older uncles do not engage much anymore. We are not getting into deep conversation.” 

“No one hardly cares about what is going on in the lives of each other. No one is open to listening to others. None of my family ever asks about what I am doing, especially the work that I do in the Church. But there is attitude that ‘I am better than you.’”

“What is the problem here? Why does everyone appear to ‘know it all’. There is no real collaboration or mentoring that you talk about. It seems like in the past we men were caught up in TV and sports, but now we have a lot of social media that may be causing these problems.” 

“When you grew up, did you ever get together as men? Did the men ever gather to build each other up, to work together to gain knowledge and skills? Did your uncles try to teach you some things? There is so much talent in my family; why are we not engaging each other? What is causing this? What is going on here?”

Your observations about your relatives are definitely signs of immaturity and self-absorption.

Sure, in the nature of things, we should be promoting family growth by encouraging and uplifting others. Men should be reaching out to the younger males in their families, helping them, encouraging them, validating them. But men are increasingly self-focused and egocentric instead of positioned to serve and support. 

Often, this self-orientation occurs because of lack of awareness of the inherent mission to mentor and support others. Many grown men require a summons to lead and mentor others. Men should understand that through mentoring they gain fulfillment and a sense of purpose. Achieving a deep sense of satisfaction comes mainly in service to others—particularly in the family.

But, as you relate: there is widespread problem of self-importance and self-glorification.

Tragically, men cannot validate readily unless they themselves are validated. Deep down, this air of presumption or expertise is a cry for the need to be affirmed. And several reasons account for the emptiness many feel: materialistic culture, lack of parenting, superabundance of advertising, and yes, a social media culture which leads people to be self-absorbed.

So, given these and other factors, you are experiencing what my brother called “one-upmanshp”. Men are attempting to show that they are better than others. Everything is turned inward, it is selfish. The drive abides to put on a good image. To feel superior. To be considered the expert—as one more knowledgeable than the others in the room

Above all, perhaps the quest for “success” instead of “good character” leads to this superficiality.

Tell you what: you provide the example for the men in your family to follow. Show interest in others and be that model of selflessness.