alternate futures
April 8, 2011, 12:33 am
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

David Brooks describes two worlds in his article about life fulfillment called the Social Animal.  One is an empty yet realized life, and the other full and usually elusive.

The empty life is founded on advice and coaching and what society says a good life should be.  Needless to say this world of stern advice and empty results is staggeringly ironic.  Base your life on career skills, get degreed at the right school, concentrate on the minutiae of technique and performance, leverage intelligence, and you will succeed says society.

But you won’t find achievement or fulfillment, says Brooks.  None of the advisors and coaches nor social maxims are there when you need answers to life’s most important questions:  love, friendship, loyalty, belief, disavowal.  For these intimate and essential decisions you’re on your own.

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hemming and hawing
February 14, 2011, 5:03 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

In a competitive world, it’s a liability to be thoughtful.  Takes too much time.  People are cleaning up and moving on while you’re still wrapping your head around and making sense of and coming to grips with.  Shall we stop the world and let you off?  And how do you propose to fill out your timesheet?

Here is a teacher who demonstrates to her class the difference between mere mental strength and mental character.  The former computes and then decides – done.  The latter negotiates a treacherous terrain:  weighs conflicting options, hems, waits patiently, debates internally, haws, recalibrates biases, welcomes uncertainty.  And it ends with wisdom.  It’s a good definition, and – because of its difficulty – a better way to practical strength of mind.

Ms. Taylor was always reminding the class of how limited her grasp of any situation was. “Sorry, I get distracted easily,” she’d say, or, “Sorry, sometimes I jump to conclusions too quickly.” In this way, she communicated the distinction between mental strength (the processing power of the brain) and mental character (the mental virtues that lead to practical wisdom). She stressed the importance of collecting conflicting information before making up one’s mind, of calibrating one’s certainty level to the strength of the evidence, of enduring uncertainty for long stretches as an answer became clear, of correcting for one’s biases. As Keith E. Stanovich, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, writes in his book “What Intelligence Tests Miss” (2009), these “thinking dispositions” correlate weakly or not at all with I.Q.

David Brooks, Social Animal