David Brooks explores the four commitments that define a life of meaning and purpose: to a spouse and family, to a vocation, to a philosophy or faith, and to a community. The quotes are beautiful, adding different perspectives on fundamental truths.
In their book Practical Wisdom, psychologist Barry Schwartz and political scientist Kenneth Sharpe tell a story about a hospital janitor named Luke. In the hospital where Luke worked, there was a young man who was in a coma. Every day his father sat beside his bed for six months. Luke cleaned the young mans room earlier that day when his father was out getting a smoke. They ran into each other in the hallway and the father accused Luke of not cleaning his son’s room.
The first-mountain response would be to see your job as cleaning rooms, and snap back to the father by saying you already did clean the room. The second-mountain response would be to see your job as serving patients and know that this man needs comfort, apologize, then go to clean the room again.
If the first mountain is about building up the ego and defining the self, the second mountain is about shedding the ego and losing the self. If the first mountain is about acquisition, the second mountain is about contribution. If the first mountain is elitist—moving up—the second mountain is egalitarian—planting yourself amid those who need, and walking arm in arm with them.
The first-mountain people are often cheerful, interesting, and fun to be around. They often have impressive jobs and can take you to an amazing variety of great restaurants. The second-mountain people aren’t averse to the pleasures of the world. ... But they have surpassed these pleasures in pursuit of moral joy, a feeling that they have aligned their life toward some ultimate good. If they have to choose, they choose joy.
Everybody says you should serve a cause larger than yourself, but nobody tells you how. Society is suffering from a crises of connection that values hyper-individualism. We have sprung too far to the self and the only way out is to rebalance our culture towards relation, community and commitment.
People on the second mountain have made strong commitments to at least one of these four things:
Good character is about giving yourself away and loving things because they are worthy of love. You surrender yourself to a community or cause, make promises to others and build a jungle of loving attachments. Character is a good thing to have but it’s even better to have moral joy as that brings you closer to embodying love in its purest form.
Let’s first define the difference between Happiness and Joy. Happiness is what we feel when we move towards closer to a goal, such as a promotion or graduate from college. It has to do with some level of success or sensual pleasure.
Joy on the other hand is present when mother and baby are gazing into each other’s eyes. It exists when a hiker is overwhelmed by beauty in the woods and its when a group of friends are dancing deliriously in unison.
Happiness is what we aim for on the first mountain, but Joy is a by-product of living on the second mountain. My point being that Happiness is good by joy is better. You can expect a fuller life by embodying the traits of a joyful person then one who only seeks to appease their own happiness.
One way of accomplishing this is by making generosity part of your daily routine, as we now know our personality is malleable. Every thought and action we take amplifies our direction each time. Becoming the person we desire will take consistent effort though. Criminologists often say that people who commit murder have to walk through a lot of other doors before they get to a point where they can take another human life.
Benjamin Hardy is a writer who described his decision to take on three foster children in Inc. magazine. “A life of ease is not the pathway to growth and happiness. On the contrary, a life of ease is how you get stuck and confused in life.”
This means to say that sometimes it is better to take on short-term struggles that my frustrate or fatigue us because we know that it can become a source of joy for us in the long-term.
Happiness involves a victory for the self, an expansion of self. Happiness comes as we move toward our goals, when things go our way. ... Joy tends to involve some transcendence of self. It’s when the skin barrier between you and some other person or entity fades away and you feel fused together.
Other people, though not explicitly religious, also experience moments when love seems to shine down on them. Jules Evans was skiing at age twenty-four when he fell off a cliff, dropped thirty feet, and broke his leg and back. “As I lay there I felt immersed in love and light. I’d been suffering from emotional problems for six years and feared my ego was permanently damaged. In that moment, I knew that I was OK, I was loved, that there was something in me that could not be damaged, call it ‘the soul,’ or ‘the self,’ ‘pure consciousness’ or what have you.”
When people make generosity part of their daily routine, they refashion who they are. The interesting thing about your personality, your essence, is that it is not more or less permanent like your leg bone. Your essence is changeable, like your mind. Every action you take, every thought you have, changes you, even if just a little, making you a little more elevated or a little more degraded.
“A life of ease is not the pathway to growth and happiness. On the contrary, a life of ease is how you get stuck and confused in life.”
Part 1: The Two Mountains
One of the greatest legacies a person can leave is a moral ecology—a system of belief and behavior that lives on after they die.
Researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education recently asked ten thousand middle and high school students if their parents cared more about personal achievements or whether they were kind. Eighty percent said their parents cared more about achievements—individual success over relational bonds.
This illustrates how central accomplishment is in a hyper-individualistic society. People are not measured by how they confirm to a moral code, nor how deep their relationships are, but solely seek status, admiration, and personal accomplishment.
Hyper-individualism is far from being a new problem. In eighteenth-century America, Settlers from Europe began defecting to live with Native Americans. Colonials occasionally persuaded natives to come with them, taught them English, but very quickly those natives returned home.
The difference was that people in Indian villages had a communal culture and close attachments. They lived in a spiritual culture that saw all creation 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 me think that it’s possible for a whole society to get itself into a place where it’s fundamentally misordered.
Part 2: The Instagram Life
In modern society, college graduates are told that Freedom leads to happiness. They end up graduating into a big box of nothing —the big box of possibility! Your future is limitless! You can do anything you set your mind to!
We hand them the empty box of authenticity, tell them to look inside themselves, to awaken the giant within! All of this is useless as are immediately set off on their own and to find their own truth. They go from being a student, being told what is the next assignment, the next test, the next class to being pushed out on the curb and told to figure the rest of their lives out.
Kierkegaard once summarized the question that these graduates are really asking: “What I really need to be clear about is what am I to do, not about what I must know….It is a question of finding a truth that is truth for me, of finding the idea for which I am willing to live and die….It is for this my soul thirsts, as the deserts of Africa thirst for water.”
From the most structured and supervised childhood in human history, you get spit out after graduation into the least structured young adulthood in human history. Yesterday parents, teachers, coaches, and counselors were all marking your progress and cheering your precious self. Today the approval bath stops. The world doesn’t know your name or care who you are.
Part 3: The Aesthetic Life
Some people graduate from college with the mindset of a daring adventurer. They set out to teach English in Mongolia at the age of twenty-three, or go lead white-water rafting trips in Colorado. Doing something completely crazy is a great way to start your twenties, but the problem with this kind of life only becomes evident down the road if you haven’t yet settled down onto one thing.
If you say yes to everything year after year, you end up leading what Kierkegaard lamented as an aesthetic style of life. The person leading the aesthetic life is leading his life as if it were a piece of art, judging it by aesthetic criteria—is it interesting or dull, pretty or ugly, pleasurable or painful? Such a person schedules a meditation retreat here, a Burning Man visit there, one fellowship one year and another one the next. There’s swing dancing one day, SoulCycle twice a week, Krav Maga for a few months, Bikram Yoga for a few months more, and occasionally a cool art gallery on a Sunday afternoon. Your Instagram feed will be amazing, and everybody will think you’re the coolest person ever. You tell yourself that relationships really matter to you—scheduling drinks, having lunch—but after you’ve had twenty social encounters in a week you forget what all those encounters are supposed to build to.
As Annie Dillard put it, how you spend your days is how you spend your life. If you spend your days merely consuming random experiences, you will begin to feel like a scattered consumer. If you want to sample something from every aisle in the grocery store of life, you turn yourself into a chooser, the sort of self-obsessed person who is always thinking about himself and his choices and is eventually paralyzed by self-consciousness.
Nobody quite knows where they stand with one another. Everybody is pretty sure that other people are doing life better. Comparison is the robber of joy.
After several years of pursuing open options, it’s not so much that you lose the meaning of your life; you have trouble even staying focused on the question. David Foster Wallace’s epic novel Infinite Jest is a description of the distracted frame of mind. It’s about a movie so “fatally entertaining” that everybody becomes a drooling zombie in its trance. The big questions in life have been replaced by entertainment. The novel embodies what it is like to have a distracted mind.
Wallace thought the way to fight all this was through individual attention. “Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think,” he said in a commencement speech. “It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”
Political freedom is great. But personal, social, and emotional freedom—when it becomes an ultimate end—absolutely sucks. It leads to a random, busy life with no discernible direction, no firm foundation, and in which, as Marx put it, all that’s solid melts to air. It turns out that freedom isn’t an ocean you want to spend your life in. Freedom is a river you want to get across so you can plant yourself on the other side—and fully commit to something.
Part 4: The Insecure Overachiever
If one group of young people approach adulthood as an aesthetic experience, another group tries to treat it like a continuation of school. They are pragmatists and good at solving problems. They will have a good answer as to what they will do after school and in order to keep the existential anxiety about what to do with their life at bay, grab the first job that comes along.
Unfortunately this pragmatic route doesn’t spare one from the ditch, either. The “How do I succeed?” Question quickly becomes eclipsed by the “Why am I doing this?” questions. Your conversations turn into descriptions of how busy you are and you begin to view yourself not as a soul to be uplifted but as a set of skills to be maximized.
Furthermore, workaholism is a surprisingly effective distraction from emotional and spiritual problems. It’s surprisingly easy to become emotionally avoidant and morally decoupled, to be less close to and vulnerable with those around you, to wall off the dark jungle deep inside you, to gradually tamp down the highs and lows and simply live in neutral. Have you noticed how many people are more boring and half-hearted at age thirty-five than they were at twenty?
Journalist Lisa Miller describes an “ambition collision” in her peers. These are opportunity seizers who delay marriage and having children because they were driven to do big things. But at a certain age it seems they realize they’ve been operating in a way where they lost their vision. They fantasize about quitting their jobs or having kids merely as an excuse to drop out of the rat race. They talk about purpose while diligently working and waiting for something—untying—to reignite them, to convince them that their wanting hasn’t abandoned them for good.”
Miller portrays this as a female problem, arising from society’s screwed-up attitudes about women and work. But I notice many men have this sensation too, that they are not living to their highest potential. A word created centuries ago describes this very problem: Acedia.
Acedia is the quieting of passion. It is a lack of care. It is living a life that doesn’t arouse your strong passions and therefore instills a sluggishness of the soul, like an oven set on warm. The person living in acedia may have a job and a family, but he is not entirely grabbed by his own life. His heart is over there, but his life is over here.
In short, meritocracy encourages us to drift into a life that society loves, but we don’t.
A person who tries to treat life as if it were an extension of school often becomes what the Danish novelist Matias Dalsgaard calls an “_insecure overachiever_”: “Such a person must have no stable or solid foundation to build upon, and yet nonetheless tries to build his way out of his problem. You can’t compensate for a foundation made of quicksand by building a new story on top.”
The insecure overachiever never fully wills anything and is thus never satisfied. His brain is moving and his status is rising, but his heart and soil are never fully engaged. When you have nothing but your job title to rest on, then you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to others. You become forever haunted by the fleeting perception of the person you want to become, unable to come to terms with the person you are.
Part 5: The Valley
Suffering comes in many forms, some people keep themselves too busy to realize they lost the thread of their own lives. Some will suffer a heartbreak. Some people may lose a loved one, which makes them feel as if some bright future is forever lost. Others will get knocked sideways by a heart attack, cancer, or stroke. Others experience failure or scandal; they’ve built their identity on some external performance, and that is now gone.
For some people this is not so much a dramatic crises as it is just creeping malaise, a gradual loss of enthusiasm in what they were doing. The Jungian analyst explained it this way: “I always sought to win whatever the game was, and only now do I realize how much I have been played by the game.”
A person may fight ferociously to win success, to be better than everybody else, and then one day find it all seems empty and meaningless.
People seem to go through a similar process before they are able to acknowledge how big of a problem they really have. First they deny something is wrong with their life. Then they increase their efforts to follow the old plan. Then they find a new thrill or distraction like having an affair, drinking or doing drugs. Once all this fails they admit they need to change the way they think about life.
Part 6: The Telos Crisis
A telos crisis is defined by the fact that people in it don’t know what their purpose is. When this happens, they become fragile. Nietzsche says that he who has a “why” to live for can endure any “how.” If you know what your purpose is, you can handle the setbacks. But when you don’t know what your purpose is, any setback can lead to total collapse. As Seamus Heaney put it, “You are neither here nor there, A hurry through which known and strange things pass.”
It manifests itself as a kind of lostness. David Foster Wallace noticed the fundamental cause was moral directionless. Furthermore it’s become difficult to know how many people are suffering this type of crisis because so many have become so good at masking it. As writer Veronica Rae Saron put it, “Conversation after conversation, it has become more and more clear: those among us with flashy Instagram accounts, perfectly manufactured LinkedIn profiles, and confident exteriors are probably those who are feeling the most confused, anxious, and stuck when it comes to the future.” Eventually there is no escape to the big questions. What’s my best life? What do I believe in? Where do I belong?
1. Loneliness Crises
It turns out that thirty-five percent of Americans over forty-five are chronically lonely. Only 8 percent of Americans report having important conversations with their neighbors in a given year. In 1950, less than 10 percent of households were single-person households; now nearly 30 percent are.
Apart from the loneliness epidemic, we’re also being plagued by alienation from our government and neighbors. People are less trustworthy as there is less social good bridging people and communities together. Distrust breeds distrust and this leads people to conclude that the only person they can truly trust is themselves.
3. Crisis of Meaning
Despite all we know today about how our minds and bodies work, mental health problems, including depression are on the rise. In 2012, 5.9% of young people suffered depression, but by 2015 it was 8.2% and rising. When you tell everybody to find their own meaning, life becomes a mystery to many who unknowingly distract themselves from that feeling of emptiness with a smartphone.
Many people have lost faith in their institutions. Church attendance has declined by half since the 1960’s, and the number of people who said they were proud to be Americans has been on the decline for years.
The first three crises has given rise to our reaction of individualism. When people who are left naked and alone by radical individualism do what they are programmed to do and revert to tribalism which is individualism taken too far.
True loneliness is not only solitude but also a spiritual emptiness, the loss of faith in oneself. In the Middle East for example, militants join the Islamic State to experience a sense of belonging and purpose, even if that means being a martyr.
Tribalism is our attempt to restore the bonds of community, but it’s like the evil twin of community. Instead of being based on a sense of connection, it instead bonds people together based on a common enemy.
Part 7: Suffering
It’s hard to appreciate suffering until you have spent enough time to learn it’s true value. It teaches you gratitude for life, for one another, it makes you sympathetic to those who share the pain. In this way, it tenderizes the heart.
Most of all, suffering shatters the illusion of self-sufficiency. We suffering we can see the food the ego needs is actually quite small from what we’ve been told. Climbing out of the valley of suffering is not like recovering from a disease healed, but as a completely different person.
Poet Ted Hughes observed that the worst things are often the best to remember, because at those low moments the protective shell is taken off, humility is achieved, a problem is clearly presented, and a call to service is received.
Part 8: The Wilderness
At the moment when you are most confused about what you should do with your life, the smartest bet is to do what millions of men and women have done through history. Pick yourself up and go out alone into the wilderness.
When you lean into this feeling, this call towards finding a new way of being, you must remain attentive, calm, and obedient to your best intuitions.
Life is stripped of distractions in the wilderness. What happens when a gifted child finds himself in the woods, stripped of any way of proving his worth?” Asks Belden Lane in Backpacking with Saints. “What does he do when there’s nothing he can do, when there’s no audience to applaud his performance? His world falls to pieces, and the soul hungry for approval starves in the desert. It reduces the compulsive achiever to something ordinary. Only then is he able to be loved.”
Listening to oneself requires a lot of patience. It means asking questions like What have I done well? What have I done poorly? What do I do when I’m not being paid or rewarded? Were there times when I put on faces that other people wanted me to wear, or that I thought other people wanted me to wear?
When you’re in the wilderness, a better version of yourself has a tendency to emerge. The person you’re there with isn’t worried about his performance. He sheds the polished persona and this is the beginning of an important revelation.
This is the pivotal point of perhaps the book. On the surface, we build a hard shell built to cover the fear, insecurity by gaining approval and success. When you get to the core of yourself, you find a deep yearning to care and connect. This is where your heart and soul reside.
Part 9: Heart and Soul
We all have a heart and a soul. The soul mostly yearns and the heart yearns for fusion with another person or cause. Socrates said that the purpose of life is the perfection of our souls—to realize the goodness that the soul longs for.
When we relinquish the ego self we can find ourselves being led by the heart and soul. Getting to that point is the hard part. In 1849, a young Fyodor Dostoyevsky was imprisoned and sentenced to die in Saint Petersburg. He an other men were marched into town square about to be put to death by firing squad when a messenger arrived on horseback and the sentences were reduced to hard labor by the czar. One man cried and shouted “Long live the czar!” Another went mad. Dostoyevsky was overcome with joy and recalled singing in his cell, so happy that he had been given his life back.
He realized then on that life was a gift, that it was happiness and that life is ourselves.
Most of us don’t end up in front of a firing squad, only to be pardoned. Most of us learn the lesson that Dostoyevsky learned over seasons of suffering. The lesson here is that the things we thought were the most important—achievement, affirmation, intelligence—are much less important than what we undervalue, the heart and soul.
The lesson is that the things we thought were most important—achievement, affirmation, intelligence—are actually less important, and the things we had undervalued—heart and soul—are actually the most important.
Part 10: The Committed Life
Individualism says, You have to love yourself first before you can love others. But the second-mountain ethos says, You have to be loved first so you can understand love, and you have to see yourself actively loving others so that you know you are worthy of love.
On the first mountain you make choices and keep your options open. The second mountain is about making commitments and giving yourself away to others.
Our commitments give us our identity, they are how we introduce ourselves to strangers or make conversation. Without being bound to the fulfillment of promises, we would never be able to achieve the amount of identity and continuity which together produce a person of whom a story can be told of.
Our commitments are what gives us a sense of a purpose. In 2007, the Gallup organization asked people around the world whether they felt they were leading a meaningful life. It turned out that Liberia was the country with the highest reported number of people with a sense of meaning and purpose, while the Netherlands had the lowest percentage. It turns out that Liberians possess what Paul Froese calls “existential urgency.” The turmoil of their country compiles them to make fierce commitments to one another merely to survive.
The paradox of privilege is that the well-off chase temporary pleasures that actually draw us apart. We use our wealth to buy big houses with yards that separate and make us lonely. In a crises though, we are compelled to hold closely to one another in ways that actually meet our deepest needs.
Character is something that you end up building not by sitting in a room thinking about the difference between right and wrong, but it emerges from our commitments to others. Commitments are the school for moral formation, and when your life is defined by fervent commitments, you are on the second mountain.
Part 11: The Second Mountain
In general, there exist around six layers of desire:
1. Material pleasure. Having nice food, a nice car, a nice house.
2. Ego pleasure. Becoming well-known or rich and successful.
3. Winning victories and recognition.
4. Intellectual pleasure. Learning about things. Understanding the world around us.
5. Generativity. The pleasure we get in giving back to others and serving our communities.
6. Fulfilled love. Receiving and giving love. The rapturous union of souls.
7. Transcendence. The feeling we get when living in accordance with some ideal.
In his book, A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer whites about the two ways in which our hearts can be broken: the first imagining the heart as shattered and scattered; the second imagining the heart broken open into new capacity, holding more of both our own and the world’s suffering and joy, despair and hope.
It is a paradox that when people are finding themselves they often have a sensation that they are letting go and surrendering themselves. You meet a person in need. At first you just commit to help them a little. An hour a week. It’s no big deal. But then you get to know and care about the person, and the hooks of commitment are set. Now you’ll do what needs to be done. At this point you just let go of the wheel. You stop asking, What do I want? and start asking, What is life asking of me? You respond.
We think of giving as something we do on rare occasions, on Christmas and birthdays. But the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer argued that giving is the primary relationship between one person and another, not the secondary one. It is family member to family member. Friend to friend. Colleague to colleague. People to community. It is the elemental desire to transform isolation and self-centeredness into connectedness and caring. A personality awakens itself by how it gives.
Many of the people depicted in the book, but not mentioned in these notes are all working in or have created organizations meant at strengthening the social cohesion inside various communities across the world, like the [Aspen Institute: Weave].
Community builders believe in radical mutuality. They reject the notion that some people have everything in order, and that other people are screwups. As W. H. Auden said, the task in your life is to “love your crooked neighbor with all your crooked heart.”
Charity and mentor are dirty words, because they imply the adults are higher and ministering down to the young.
Part 12: What Vocation Looks Like
Viktor Frankl, famous psychoanalysis and author of [[The man’s Search for Meaning] found himself thrown into a concentration camp. He realized that the career questions—What do I want from life? What can I do to make myself happy?—are not the proper questions. The real question is, What is life asking of me?
Viktor writes in his book, “We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct.
Nietzsche wrote that the way to discover what you were put on earth for is to go back into your past, list the times you felt most fulfilled, and then see if you can draw a line through them. Mentors who lodge this into our mind are hard on us. Mentors are there to teach us what excellence looks like.
What most people seek in life, especially when young, is not happiness but an intensity that reaches into the core. We want to be involved in some important pursuit that involves hardship and is worthy of that hardship.
We fault to making commitments through intuitions, but they are unstable. Feelings are usually fleeting and sometimes inexplicable in the days or even minutes after you feel them. I was recently up for a job, and during the competition to get it I invented all sorts of reasons why I would enjoy the job, which was mostly fundraising and administration. Then, when I didn’t get the job, I felt a huge surge of relief: What was I thinking? I’m a middle-aged man and apparently I have no clue about who I really am.
On the other hand we might try to make a commitment through rational logic. This might help make up for cognitive biases but without any data on what your transformed self will look like, it is impossible to make a truly accurate decision through logic alone. Moral purpose and the meaning of life is philosophical in nature and cannot be defined through logic.
One should make a commitment based on interest. This is because Interest multiples talent and in most cases is even more important. Knowledge is plentiful; motivation is scarce.
Robert Greene gets to the core of this in his book [Mastery]: “_Your emotional commitment to what you are doing will be translated directly into your work. If you go at your work with half a heart, it will show in the lackluster results and in the laggard way in which you reach the end._”
The Greeks had a concept called daemonic. It was used to describe a calling, an obsession, a source of lasting. Daemons are clusters of energy in the unconscious and identifies itself as an obsessive interest, a feeling of being at home when in the midst of that activity. When you see a person at the peak of their powers, it’s because they have come into contact with that daemon, which has unfolded itself as a yearning, an unresolvable tension.
As adults we have a tendency to push aside this daemon and become analytical in our thoughts and response to events around us. In doing so we lose the ability to truly discern between what we like and don’t like.
To find this daemon again we must be willing to be vulnerable. Because to love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
To make a wise vocation decision is to lead a life that keeps your heart and soul awake every day. Over time, a commitment to addressing a problem often eclipses the love of the activity that led someone to tackle the problem in the first place. At that point, a feeling of certainty clicks in. When that happens, you come to realize you are no longer asking the question, “What should I do with my life?”
Part 13: Moments of Obligation
The best advice I’ve heard for people in search of a vocation is to say yes to everything. Say yes to every opportunity that comes along, because you never know what will lead to what. Have a bias toward action. Think of yourself as a fish that is hoping to get caught. Go out there among the fishhooks.
Swaniker, an entrepreneurial friend of the author, had a harrowing experience that led him to quit his job to pursue a calling.
Swaniker believes that we are defined by these moments of obligation, which are “usually caused by a sense of outrage about some injustice, wrong-doing or unfairness we see in society.” But he goes on to argue that “you should ignore 99% of these moments of obligation,” no matter how guilty it makes you feel. The world is full of problems, but very few are the problems you are meant to address.
When you feel the tug of such a moment, Swaniker advises to ask three questions:
1. First, Is it a big enough problem?
2. Am I uniquely positioned to make this happen?
3. Am I truly passionate about this?
If your answer to all three is not a resounding yes, Swaniker advises you should ignore that idea.
At the end of the day, it’s not about creating a career path, but is rather asking what will touch my deepest desire, will give me a deep feeling of satisfaction?
Part 14: Mastery
“A man’s never out of work if he’s worth a damn,” the old man reflected. “It’s just sometimes he doesn’t get paid. I’ve gone unpaid my share and I’ve pulled my share of pay. But that’s got nothing to do with working. A man’s work is doing what he’s supposed to do, and that’s why he needs a catastrophe now and again to show him a bad turn isn’t the end, because a bad stroke never stops a good man’s work.”
In order to achieve mastery in our vocation, requires Self-discipline, as we will always be tempted by lesser pursuits no matter how meaningful your work feels.
Self-discipline is a form of freedom, Freedom from laziness and lethargy, freedom from expectations and the demands of others, freedom from weakness and fear—and doubt. We all want to imagine that our failures are of the first kind, but one suspects that something like 95 percent of failures are of the second kind.
Additionally, we need to learn the virtue of staying put and staying true, of choosing again what we chose before. In my view that’s one of the main reasons we come to church. We’re here not so much to make spiritual progress each week, though that’s wonderful when it happens. Rather, we mostly come for the consistency—for what remains the same from week to week: the comfort of the liturgy, the solace of the music, the reassuring sight of familiar faces, the enduring presence of ancient rites and timeless symbols. We’re here to remind ourselves of values that unite us and commitments that keep us heading in the right direction. We’re here to choose again what we chose before.
There are (at least) two kinds of failure. In the first kind you are good, but other people can’t grasp how good you are. Melville’s Moby-Dick sold only 2,300 copies in its first eighteen months and only 5,500 copies in its first fifty years. It was savaged by reviewers. The second kind, you fail because you’re not as good as you thought you were, and other people see it.
We all imagine our failures are of the first kind, but one suspects that something like 95 percent of failures are of the second kind.
Part 15: Marriage
If you go into marriage seeking self-actualization, you will always feel frustrated because marriage, and especially parenting, will constantly be dragging you away from the goals of self.
In “The Meaning of Marriage”, Tim and Kathy Keller describe how the process of improvement and elevation happens. First, you marry a person who seems completely wonderful and mostly perfect. Then, after a little while—maybe a month or two—you realize that the person you thought was so wonderful is actually imperfect, selfish, and flawed in many ways. As you are discovering this part about your spouse, they are making the exact same discovery about you.
In order to have a truly great marriage, both spouses should agree to treat their self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage.
Receiving and giving gifts is the daily business of marriage. For the marriage to work, you’ve got to know your spouse well enough to love her in the way that will bring out her loveliness. The poet Jack Gilbert writes. “We find out the heart only by dismantling what the heart knows.”
There’s this constant internal struggle when you’re having a fight, a friend of mine observes. The ego wants you to say the mean thing that will take the fight up a notch. The heart wants you to say, “I love you, honey.” The ego responds, “Screw It. I’m angry. Say it!” You have to decide.
According to one authoritative longitudinal study, 90 percent of securely attached people marry, and of those 21 percent get divorced. Seventy percent of avoidantly attached people marry, and of those 50 percent get divorced. For people with anxious attachments, the divorce rates are even higher.
Marriage educates by throwing a series of difficult tasks in your path. Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee list some of the most important ones:
Conclusion: The Rationalist Manifesto
1. There always exists a balance between the self and society. In some ages the group pressure crushes the self, and individuals feel a need to break free and express their individuality. In our age, the self is inflated and the collective is weak. We have swung too far towards hyperindividualism leading to a crisis of solidarity.
2. Hyper-individualism is a system of morals, feelings, ideas, and practices based on the idea that the journey through life is an individual one. It portrays that the goals of life are individual happiness, authenticity, self-actualization, and self-sufficiency. We ask how can we make ourselves happy instead of asking how can we make our community happy.
3. Hyper-individualism rests on the idea of a heroin breaking free from the chains of society. The self is self-deterministic and must fight for freedom through the absence of restraint.
4. Therefore, hyper-individualism undermines connections to family, neighborhood, culture and the common good. It erodes our obligations to others.
5. The central problems we experience today such as social isolation, distrust and polarization stem from a breakdown between family and a loss of community leading to tribalism.
6. The biggest flaw of hyper-individualism is the degradation it does to the self because it only incentivizes self-interested drives such as wealth, power and status over the expense of seeking connection, service, and care. We end up seeking to fulfill the desire of the ego instead of the longings of the heart and soul.
7. This creates conditions where a person feels that they are only worthy of being loves when they have achieved status or success. People feel less secure and has led to the rise of Victimhood Culture.
8. People lead aesthetic lives only to become insecure overachievers. Love is fleeting no matter the achievement.
9. People eventually Rebel against isolation and meaninglessness by joining a tribe that is banded together based on a common foe.
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