New York Times columnist David Brooks delivers a surprise in introduction of his new book, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life (Random House, 2019). He defines joy. He quotes Tolstoy and David Whyte. There’s poetry and survey work on mysticism.
Brooks has shed a rigid exoskeleton, and he’s refreshingly frank, right from the start (“Those of us who are writers work out our stuff in public, even under the guise of pretending to write about someone else.”), drawing on his personal dark night following the release of his last book. Out of the gate he upends expectations: that we’re in for a thinly veiled rationalization for not-so-enlightened self-interest, a defense of the status quo. But he goes big. He writes:
“When I wrote The Road to Character, I was still enclosed in the prison of individualism. I believed that life is going best when we take individual agency, when we grab the wheel and steer our own ship. I still believed that character is something you build mostly on your own. You identify your core sin and then, mustering all your willpower, you make yourself strong in your weakest places.
I no longer believe that character formation is mostly an individual task, or is achieved on a person-by-person basis. I no longer believe that character building is like going to the gym: You do your exercises and you build up your honesty, courage, integrity, and grit. I now think good character is a by-product of giving yourself away. You love things that are worthy of love. You surrender to a community of cause, make promises to other people, build a thick jungle of loving attachments, lose yourself in the daily act of serving others as they lose themselves in the daily acts of serving you. Character is a good thing to have, and there’s a lot to be learned on the road to character. But there’s a better thing to have—moral joy. And that serenity arrives as you come closer to embodying perfect love.”
“I now think the rampant individualism of our current culture is a catastrophe. The emphasis on self—individual success, self-fulfillment, individual freedom, self-actualization—is a catastrophe. I now think that living a good life requires a much vaster transformation. It’s not enough to work on your own weaknesses. The whole cultural paradigm has to shift from the mindset of hyper-individualism to the relational mindset of the second mountain.”
This puts us in a vulnerable place together. Or perhaps we’re already there, and conversation like this simply allows us to acknowledge it and get to work. Sure to be an engaging read, sparking lively conversation, the book is the selection of the Raleigh Court Branch Library book club for the month of May. Join the discussion on Friday, May 31st, at 1 PM.