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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,105
December 16, 2021
Climb "The Second Mountain"
By Mike McManus

`David Brooks, a New York Times columnist and a TV commentator has written a provocative book, The Second Mountain.

"The first mountain is the individualist worldview, which puts the desires of the ego at the center. The second mountain is what you might call the relationalist worldview, which puts relation, commitment and the desires of the heart and soul at the center. My core argument has been that we have overdone it with the individualistic worldview.

"By conceiving ourselves mostly as autonomous selves, we've torn our society to shreds, opened up division and tribalism, come to worship individual status and self-sufficiency, and covered over what is most beautiful in each heart and soul."

As Brooks sees it, the "individualist moral ecology is crumbling around us. It has left people naked and alone. For many the first instinctive reaction is the evolutionary one. Revert to tribe" which will make the 21st Century "a time of conflict and violence that will make the 20th Century look like child's play."

However, Brooks argues there is another way "to find belonging" and "meaning and purpose." There is another vision of a healthy society. It is through relationalism."

He asserts that "hyper-individualism erodes our obligations and responsibilities to others and our kind." Brooks argues that "we are formed by relationship, we are nourished by relationship and we long for relationship. Life is not a solitary journey. It is building a home together."

He notes that "as a child, each person's emotional and spiritual foundation is formed by the unconditional love of a caring parent...As adults we measure the quality of our lives by the quality of our relationships and the quality of our service to those relationships."

Brooks argues that "The best adult life is lived by making commitments and staying faithful to those commitments: commitments to a vocation, to a family, to a philosophy or faith, to a community. Adult life is about making promises to others, being faithful to those promises. The beautiful life is found in the mutual giving of unconditional gifts."

Much of modern social thought, drawing upon such thinkers as Machiavelli and Hobbs sees "human beings a fundamentally selfish. Children, Freud wrote "are completely egotistic; they feel their needs intensely and strive ruthlessly to satisfy them."

However, Brooks asserts that "There are motivations that are even stronger than self-interest, even if they are more elusive. At the deepest center of each person there is what we call, metaphorically, the heart and soul. There are capacities that tame the savage lusts and subdue the beasts that remain inside, and those capacities are realized in community."

Brooks charges that the heart is the piece of us that longs for fusion with others. "We are not primarily thinking creatures; we are primarily love and desiring creatures. We are defined by what we desire. We become what we love. The core question for each of us is,
"Have we educated our emotions to love the right things in the right way?"

"The soul is the piece of us that gives each person infinite dignity and worth...The soul yearns for goodness. Each human being wants to live a good and meaningful life, and feels life falling apart when it seems meaningless.

However, "for many people, around adolescence, the ego begins to swell, and the heart and soul recede." Our society tells adolescent boys to "bury their emotions and become men. Our public culture normalizes selfishness, rationalizes egotism, and covers over and renders us inarticulate about the deepest longings of heart and soul," Brooks writes.

"But eventually most people realize something is missing in the self-interested life. They achieve worldly success and find it unsatisfying." Eventually most people "realize that only emotional, moral and spiritual food can provide the nourishment they crave."

Brooks argues that "the movement toward becoming a person is downward and then outward. A person achieves self-mastery, Maritain wrote, for the purpose of self-giving."

"The summons often comes in the form of love. A person falls in love with her child, her husband, her calling or her God. And with that love comes an urge to make promises - to say I will always love you, I will always serve you and be there for you.

"Or a summons may come in the form of a need." I most identify myself with Brooks' assertion that "There is always some injustice, some societal wrong that needs to be fixed. A person assumes responsibility - makes a promise to fight that fight and right that wrong."

Brooks is right that each of us must climb "The Second Mountain."


Copyright (c)2021 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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