The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life

 

We can be broken, or we can be broken open.

David Brooks New York Times op-ed columnist
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The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life

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During a personal low point of loneliness and pain, David Brooks wanted to write his way to a better life. For five years, he did just that, researching and writing about people who’ve lived joyous and committed lives, exploring the wisdom they offer on finding purpose and living well. The result is his latest book, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. Brooks shares what he learned: how to fall in love with things, serve those things, and what happens when we put commitment-making at the center of our lives.

The first mountain: hollow success
The first mountain: hollow success
The valley between: disconnection
The second mountain: hope through community
1.

The first mountain: hollow success

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11:17

The meritocracy reigns supreme in our society, claims New York Times columnist David Brooks. Starting at a young age, Brooks says we teach our children to follow an ethos that defines who we are by what we achieve. But underlying the meritocracy is a foundation of lies:

David Brooks
The first mountain: hollow success

  • David Brooks

The crux of these lies rests on the belief that life is an isolated journey — you are what you accomplish, that you alone can make yourself happy, and that your worth derives from your skills. This is how we unthinkingly climb what Brooks calls the first mountain of our lives. We strive for success in the meritocracy, but in doing so we rob ourselves of spiritual and communal growth. 

David Brooks
“We create lives that are not sustainable, where people are shooting for success. They get to the top of that first mountain and it’s not satisfying. It’s disappointing.”
We create lives that are not sustainable, where people are shooting for success. They get to the top of that first mountain and it’s not satisfying. It’s disappointing.
— David Brooks
2.

The valley between: disconnection

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14:23

Because meritocracy’s fundamental unit is the individual, David Brooks says that when people fall off their first mountain they tend to do it alone. People are so focused on their personal successes that they neglect the relationships with friends, family, and neighbors. They lose the connectivity that creates resilience in the face of adversity.

40% of American adults say their social relationships aren’t meaningful, according to the Health Resources & Services Administration.

This is the crisis facing society today, says Brooks. Depression, suicide, and addiction are all on the rise despite a growing economy and increasing standards of living. We all need to do a better job of taking care of each other’s mental and spiritual well-being, and Brooks says that this challenge starts with individual journeys.

David Brooks
“When you’re in the valley, the bad thing is it’s no fun. The good thing is, we suffer our way to wisdom.”
When you’re in the valley, the bad thing is it’s no fun. The good thing is, we suffer our way to wisdom.
— David Brooks
3.

The second mountain: hope through community

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37:00

“You can’t climb your way out of the valley,” says David Brooks, “someone has to reach down and help you out.” Our individual salvation comes from community, not doubling down on the individualism that got us in the valley in the first place. The journey up our second mountain, then, isn’t a solitary one. And at the top of that mountain, we let go of ourselves and seek a more fulfilled life. 

David Brooks
“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.”
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.
— David Brooks

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The Second Mountain: the Quest For A Moral Life by David Brooks

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