David Brooks is an influential NY Times columnist and best-selling author. His most recent book, "The Second Mountain," educates the human person in a way that integrates faith, emotion, and intellect and how people approach life differently. His journey up the first mountain of outward success and professional achievement, down to the valley of midlife divorce and doubt, then on to a second mountaintop, this one characterized by commitment and community, love and connection. The metaphor of two mountains contrasts different moral worldviews, Brooks says – individualist and relationalist; ego versus heart and soul.
“In the cherry blossom’s shade,” a Japanese haiku reminds us, “there’s no such thing as a stranger.” Surrender of self awakens love and connection.
The First Mountain is the path one takes as a person to achieve success, a career, prosperity, recognition — the way up, to the top. “They did the things society encouraged us to do, like make a mark, become successful, buy a home, raise a family, pursue happiness.” It is the rat race up the insurmountable road that you think you have to take to survive on the monkey rock. The result is often burnout, loneliness, alienation, soullessness. The soulless many fall from that mountain. Into the valley.
The fear of falling. And rightly so. Because falling out of the pattern is frightening. The fear of the other is paralyzing. Going into the desert to first complete what has held you up or has been taught for years is the most difficult path you can take as a person.
David provides insight on how our culture operates from The First Mountain perspective by shaping us to be individualistic, but that it is the community approach to life where joy can be found.
Brooks by his own description, is a workaholic and insecure overachiever. Part memoir and part manifesto, “The Second Mountain” is a chronicle of his gradual climb and shortcomings of Western culture with his own challenges in life.
First mountain people are divided, alienated and insufficient. They suffer from “a rot” in their “moral and cultural foundations” that is mirrored by “the rot we see in our politics.” Second mountain people, having given themselves away, lead lives of deep commitment. For them, happiness is good but joy is better. “Happiness comes from accomplishments; joy comes from offering gifts. Happiness fades; we get used to the things that used to make us happy. Joy doesn’t fade. To live with joy is to live with wonder, gratitude and hope. People who are on the second mountain have been transformed. They are deeply committed. The outpouring of love has become a steady force.”
We all can fall hard. It's not how hard you fall, but how you get back up. The falls can make our life seem hopeless. But even in that dark valley of death we can find ourselves. We have to learn to stand up slowly and consciously. To build an organization or system where relationships with each other and the world are the main reason for existence is key.
Perhaps the most hopeful aspect of “The Second Mountain” is not just what Brooks says but what he embodies. As an astute social observer, himself closing in on 60 and part of the population explosion moving beyond midlife; Brooks illustrates how a commitment to community – of ordinary people doing extraordinary things for their neighborhoods – overcomes the problem of individualism. This, then, is Brooks’ ultimate point – that we help ourselves and our students to choose the second mountain because true “joy is found on the far side of sacrificial service.”
Wisdom in the end is purely personal. The dream is real. Achieving happiness on the second mountain.