Posts Tagged ‘David Brooks’

Altruism: Doing What is Right

March 14, 2020

This post is based on content in a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. In 2003, a team of University of Massachusetts researchers led by Carolyn Schwartz reported that altruism, or what some call social interest, was associated with better life adjustment, better marital adjustment, and less hopelessness and depression. Both giving and receiving help from others predicted better mental health, although giving help to others was a stronger predictor. The researchers found that social interest moderated life stress and predicted physical health status. They developed the theory that the association between social interest, better mental health, and reduced stress may be related to a shift in attention from the self to others, enhanced self-confidence and self-acceptance, a reframing of one’s own disease experience, and a greater perceived meaning in life.

The authors write that altruism also appears to foster resilience among children who have survived highly stressful environments. In Israel, longitudinal study of physically abused children, Hanita Zimrin and colleagues found that those children who adapted well over time were more likely to assume responsibility for someone else, like a sibling or pet, than were those who fared poorly. In Emily Werner’s classic study of children living in poverty on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, children who helped others in a meaningful way (by assisting a family member, a neighbor, or some community member) were most likely to lead successful lives as adults.

The flip side of altruism is narcissism. Narcissistic individuals see themselves as the center of things, and constantly believe that they deserve more attention, understanding, and assistance than others. David Brooks in his book The Road to Character cites a survey by the Gallup Organization that “asked high school seniors if they considered themselves to be a very important person. In 1950, 12% said yes. In 2005, an astounding 80% said yes. Jean Twenge and colleagues in a book titled the Narcissism Epidemic reported that today’s young people score 30% higher on a test called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory than their peers did 20 years ago.

To put this in the context of resilience, the relationship is the more altruistic the more resilient. And the more narcissistic, the less resilient. In other words, focusing on others, enhances resilience. Focusing on oneself can virtually eliminate resilience. A good example of this is Donald Trump. He has been consistently diagnosed for having the narcissistic personality disorder. Trump’s focus is entirely on himself. It is quite obvious that Trump puts himself before the country he is supposed to be leading. And he has virtually no resilience. He takes offense at extremely small matters, and responds with nicknames and insults one would expect from a schoolyard bully.

The Second Mountain

May 10, 2019

The “Second Mountain” is a book by David Brooks: The subtitle is “The Quest for a Moral Life.” The first mountain referred to in the title is Hyper-Individualism. The second mountain is Relationalism. The first phase of his life was characterized by his hyper-individualism. This phase of his life ended in divorce and unhappiness. He moved on to Relationalism, concern for his fellow humans, and is now happy. He argues that Relationalism is the way to go. Although HM agrees, Brooks falls short on his Relationalism.

Before HM explains how Brooks falls short, he would like to underscore two parts of his book that HM finds praiseworthy. Brooks writes, “In eighteenth-century America, Colonial society and Native American society sat, unhappily, side by side. As time went by, settlers from Europe began defecting to live with the natives. No natives defected to live with the colonials. This bothered the Europeans. They had, they assumed, the superior civilization, and yet people were voting with their feet to live in the other way. The colonials occasionally persuaded natives to come with them, and taught them English, but very quickly the natives returned home. During the war with the Indians, many European settlers were taken prisoner and lived in Indian tribes. They had plenty of chances to escaped and return, but did not. When Europeans came to “rescue’ them, they fled into the woods to hide from their ‘rescuers.’

The difference was that people in Indian villages had a communal culture and close attachments. They lived in a spiritual culture that saw all creations as a single unity. The Europeans had an individualistic culture and were more separable. When actually given the choice, a lot of people preferred community over self. The story made HM think that it’s possible for a whole society to get itself into a place where it’s fundamentally disordered.”

The second praiseworthy point is his calling out the soul specifically. Too many religions are preoccupied with biological life. Biological life should be irrelevant to religions and spiritual beliefs. It is the soul that is of central concern.

Here are two paragraphs from the Conclusion with which HM strongly agrees.

“The world is in the midst of one of those transition moments. The individualistic moral ecology is crumbling around us. It has left people naked and alone. For many, the first instinctive reaction is to the evolutionary one: Revert to tribe. If we as a society respond to the excesses of “I’m Free to Be Myself” with an era of “Revert to Tribe,” then the twenty-first century will be a time of conflict and violence that will make the twentieth look like child’s play,

There is another way to find belonging. There is another way to find meaning and purpose. There is another vision of a healthy society. It is through relations. It is by going deep into ourselves and finding there our illimitable ability to care, and then spreading outward in commitment to others.”
The examples he provides of building relations are definitely commendable. But these alone will fall short. Government programs and government assistance are also needed and often provide the most efficient means of dealing with problems. Brooks is blinded because he looks at the world through Republican lenses. Unfortunately, in the United States too many Democrats are also suffering from faulty lenses. All other advanced countries have government supplied medical care. The data show that not only are these programs more effective with respect to medical care, they are also cost effective. Political propaganda and lies in the United States blind people to these results replicated in every other advanced country.

The preceding paragraph provides a good example of how beliefs and compartmentalization preclude or hinder critical thinking. Brooks identifies himself as a conservative. There is nothing wrong with that in itself. Politics needs both liberal and conservative approaches. Unfortunately, his conservatism leads him to compartmentalize. He has beliefs as to what functions government should perform and which functions they should not. Unfortunately, this compartmentalization puts medical care as something government should not do. So even in spite of the voluminous data that government supplied health care is both more economical and provides better medical care, he remains blind to that evidence. And it is quite likely he never looked for it. But good critical thinking requires examining how to justify the data in support one’s political decision and not just by blind belief.

College educations in these countries are also more affordable. It is not surprising that the United States always finished behind these countries when the survey is on happiness.

Brooks also makes derogatory comments on meditation. Meditation and contemplative prayer are central to finding meaning and purpose. But Brooks is entirely focused on western civilization and apparently is oblivious of the wisdom of the east.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.