I’ve been reading and meditating on David Brooks’s newest book, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. It spoke to me on several levels considering I’ve lived in that valley between two mountains. Brooks says our first mountain is a culturally endorsed mountain of ego, personal goals, and achievements. The valley in between is caused by various and personal circumstances- for Brooks it was a divorce and empty nest. For me, it has been a lingering financial crisis. But it’s in the valley, Brooks says is where our egos die off, and our hearts and souls have more space to operate and move. This is where he says the bigger desires are formed. Self-satisfaction gives way to gratitude, delight, kindness and joy. We develop a different value system of moral motivation instead of a system of valuing power and money. We recognize we’ve perhaps not valued the importance of committed relationships and emotional transparency. We’ve let our egos feed our souls with toxic messages.
In these valleys, we can be broken or broken open. If we are just broken without learning to trust life and to surrender to changes and new callings, we risk becoming bitter. If we let life break us open, then we combine the wisdom learned in the valley as well as the skills learned on the first mountain, and then we are confident to take the next leap into a newer and healthier way of living and relating. In our culture of individualism and personal freedom, we’ve neglected to learn to trust life itself and others. Brooks says we see this today in our country. Tribalism grows like a cancer in a society where distrust is prevalent. He says healing our country will be like healing a marriage. He writes, ” Healing a broken marriage is no different from healing a broken nation. There are always differences and disagreements in relationships, but most of the time that’s not what destroys them. It’s the way we turn disagreement into a quest of superiority. It’s not I’m right/ you’re wrong; it’s I’m better/ you’re lesser, I’m righteous/ you’re deplorable, I’m good/ you’re contemptible. It’s the tendency to be quick to take offense in a way that declares your own moral superiority.” Brooks uses Abraham Lincoln’s words and attitude following the Civil War as an example: ” Lincoln puts us all in the same category of culpability and fallenness. He realistically acknowledges the divisions and disappointments that plagued the nation. However, he does not accept the inevitability of a house divided, and calls for a radical turning of the heart: ‘With malice toward none, with charity for all.'” We could use some Abraham Lincoln about right now. Let’s all remember change begins with each of us.
Another one of the best points is asking what life expects of us, not what we expect of it. “What is life asking of me?” Brooks says to try to find the tension that awakens moral, spiritual and relational energy. He says we have to look for it under our conscious awareness. This is where we will find our calling, our vocation. There will be the foundation of joy, “ultimately joy is found not in satisfying your desires, but in changing your desires so you have the best desires.” Joy and fulfillment comes from service to others and not to just ourselves. Brooks discusses how the desire for the “common good” has been lost in our age of individualism, and boy is that not obvious during this time of COVID?
I loved reading his “10-10-10 rule” when important decisions have to be made. How will this decision feel in 10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years? This should take some of the stress off short and long range planning!
This is a good book to ponder as each of us tries to help our country through this terrible season. It’s a good reminder of the dignity of each of us and the benefit of the common good.