The Lies Our Culture Tells Us About What Matters – And A Better Way To Live
READING TIME: 5 MINUTES
I recently watched a talk by David Brooks that resonated greatly given these strange times. David is a Canadian-born American conservative political and cultural commentator who writes for The New York Times and has worked with many other major publications like The Washington Times, The Wall Street Journal, NPR and the PBS NewsHour. Below is a summary of what I took away from the talk. Hope you enjoy it and it helps you get through these changing times.
We all have bad seasons in life. We lose spouses, kids, friends, relationships. We try to tune out the pain and fear. We submerge ourselves in our work. Loneliness overtakes. It feels like fear. And drunkenness; just making bad decisions, just fluidity, lack of solidity. And the painful part of that moment is the awareness that the external emptiness reflects the hollowness in yourself. There’s also the realization that we’ve fallen for some of the lies that our culture tells us.
The first lie is that career success is fulfilling. Career success is good, but it doesn’t have any lasting outcome in personal success.
The second lie is you can make yourself happy. That if you just win one more victory, lose 15 pounds, do a little more yoga, you’ll get happy. And that's the lie of self-sufficiency. But the truth is, the things that make people happy are the deep relationships of life, the loss of self-sufficiency.
The third lie is the lie of meritocracy. The message of meritocracy is you are what you accomplish. You earn dignity by attaching yourself to prestigious brands. You “earn” your way to love. You're a set of skills to be maximized. And the people who've achieved a little more than others are actually worth a little more than others. And so, we all fall into the valley of disconnection, isolation, and fragmentation. Secretly, a lot of the things that happen to you are always happening to others, too.
Thirty-five percent of Americans over 45 are chronically lonely. Only 8% report having meaningful conversations with neighbors. 32% say they trust their neighbors, and 18% millennials say the same. Political and religious detachments are the fastest growing. Depression and mental health problems are rising. Suicides have increased by 30% since 1999. Teen suicides have risen by 70%. 45,000 Americans commit suicide each year. 72,000 die from opioids. Life expectancy is falling.
There’s an economic, environmental and political crisis. We also have a social and relational crisis. We're in the valley. We're fragmented. How do you escape this valley? Greeks said, “you suffer your way to wisdom.”
What we need to realize:
First, freedom sucks. Economic and political freedom is fine; social freedom isn't. The unrooted man is adrift, unremembered, and uncommitted. Freedom is not an ocean to swim in; it's a river to cross to commit yourself to the other side.
Second, bad moments either break you or break you open. We all know brokenness. It's grief, pain, anger, resentment, lashing out. Some people also break open. Suffering reminds them they're not the person they thought they were. We discover the depths of the soul, which can only be filled with spiritual and relational food. You leave the head and ego and enter the desirous, yearning heart. Spiritual and relational bond enjoins people within those depths.
You discover the soul, too. It's an unfathomable piece of you that gives you virtue and life. It's equally there in everyone. Slavery, rape, etc. aren't just physically abusive. They degrade the soul that needs righteousness. So, the heart desires unison, and the soul needs righteousness.
The third realization, as Einstein implied, is that your problems don’t vanish at the level of consciousness where they’re born. You need to heighten your consciousness.
How does this happen? By reconnecting with others deeper than ever before. You have to abandon your ego, let it crumble to reveal your lovable self, just like infants. The moment you break down these walls, you're ready to elevate and be rescued. You can't climb out from the valley unless someone lends you a hand.
Reaching out to people who are in these valleys, giving them a token of affection and intimacy, teaches you a lot about life. It helps you unlearn and frees you from cultural banes. Prioritizing spiritual relationships is where it begins. It isn't about leaving when things get scary; it's about rescuing yourself and others through communication, love, and righteousness. You have to release the fear and anger to make a place for love, healing, and forgiveness. That's how you make a difference. That's the way to escape a valley.
The relational values that help you heal yourself and others are the essences of life. E.O. Wilson, from his book 'Naturalist,' teaches that from childhood, we need a magnanimous moral and vocational intensity to help us connect with others in our valley.
In life, joy is not the expansion of self, it’s the dissolving of self. It’s the moment when the skin barrier disappears between a mother and her child, it’s the moment when a naturalist feels just free in nature. It’s the moment where you’re so lost in your work or a cause, you have totally self-forgotten. And joy is a better thing to aim for than happiness.
So, you need to reach down the valley, help people get out of it. When a small group of people finds a better way to live, the rest of the nation tends to follow. By filling up the cavities in our souls, social unity gets repaired.