Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Who We Are

Written by: on January 17, 2015

Julia and Rob, Harold and Erica, Harrison, Raymond and Richard Grace, cultures and ambition, generations and maturing, descriptions of the flow and ebb of life are integrated within the pages of The Social Animal by David Brooks. I am thankful that Brooks has taken the time to interweave the nuts and bolts of information and research into a narrative framework. If he had not I might well have fallen asleep. He asserts that we are not products of our conscious thinking, but rather products of our unconscious thinking.[1] One could, I suppose take this book on the surface and mend it to reinforce the concept of fate. Yet perhaps what Brooks is inviting us to consider and to understand is how we respond to “fate.” Better yet, perhaps we are invited to recognize the myriad influences and our responses that ultimately define our progression of years.

If I was disgruntled by anything in this book it was the realization that the publisher Random House needs a better glue to hold this book together, this is especially true for the first half of the book. Thankfully the narrative flows. But I did wonder in the quest to relate that humans are indeed social animals if the author limited his scope by not considering the life of a single person. Describing Harold, the son of Julia and Rob in this fictional narrative, Brooks places him as part of the generation that initiates the odyssey years. The descriptors of this phase are not new, people have been recognizing them or experiencing them for more than a decade. Influencing factors cut across economic, social, educational realms. Adrift Harold did have his group. Reading about his group of friends the author might well have taken the images from commercials and put words to them, or is it me that is seeing the commercials as I read the words? Social networks – what people do and why they do them can spur someone onward or reinforce their existence. The challenge and opportunity within social networks might just rest in what researchers have discovered, “It turns out almost everything is contagious.”[2] Intriguing, but I still wish he had looked more closely at life through a single lens. Singleness is not limited to the group dynamics, nor thrust on individuals only through divorce or death. There is a gift, I think, in singleness that our society needs to embrace.

Cultures, of course are not only confined to groups. My husband and I are in the process of updating things that need updating in our home, carpets that are more than twenty years old (Yes, it is true) and paint on walls that definitely needs refreshing. In the process I have put many of my books in boxes (13 small Home Depot boxes to be exact), while keeping my “essential books” still on bookcases. In the process I discovered, quite timely I am certain, my books on generational poverty by Ruby Payne. While contrasting cultures I was hoping Brooks would recognize the influence of generational poverty. He had the opening in describing Erica’s background. Though I regret that if he had done so it might have reinforced stereotypes, something I had to recognize in my own life. Payne’s work often centers on the hidden rules of class. Distinguishing generational poverty from situational poverty, Payne has recognized that different classes function differently, are oriented differently. People, for those in generational poverty are viewed as possessions, in the middle class things are possessions and for those that are wealthy it is legacy and distinctive possessions that matter.[3] I point this out because within the brilliance of Brooks book is the awareness of layers. He has done a great service to us by integrating the factors that contribute to shape our lives. But there are layers and important things might be hidden within the information layers. When we understand that people are possession in generational poverty, the fear is that if you become educated you will leave. I was startled to understand the grasp of this within my own background. When things are possessions, as they are in the middle class we might begin to understand more fully why even the Church might be fixated on presentation, buildings, and expertism.

Brooks sets us on a path to help us see or at least consider that “we are not who we think we are.”[4] Is he correct? What is it about stories? Are we Americans inclined toward redemptive stories?[5] Do we see or desire such stories? Why is that? What about Europeans? Is part of the need to venture outside our realm to hear the stories that others offer? Brooks desires to “illustrate how unconscious abilities really work and how, under the right circumstances they lead to human flourishing.”[6] Perhaps the gift of this book in within the layers, the intermingling and the humility that is presented. In helping us to understand how the soul develops and operates we are given a glimpse into whom and how we love and how we are transformed. I am reminded of the sacredness of life.

            [1] David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (New York: Random House, 2012), viii.

            [2] Ibid., 193.

            [3] Ruby Payne, “Breaking Through” Hope (September/October 2003). I have a copy of this article on file. Original access was probably 2003. No page numbers were included in the article.

[4] Brooks, 377.

[5] Ibid., 370.

[6] Ibid., xiii.

About the Author

Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

14 responses to “Who We Are”

  1. John Woodward says:

    Carol, you always provide important insights in your posts that make me think in new directions. (It also makes me wonder about how you must abuse perfectly good books in such a way that you have to ponder the quality of binding glue!)

    After reading your post, I began to consider other areas (besides singleness) that was lacking in Brooks portrait of modern society. What I walked away with the realization of what a narrow slice of society that Brooks actually covers. Generally speaking, the majority of his focus was on middle to upper class, urban, well-educated and very successful people living the American dream. (Note: When one of the main characters makes it be an advisor of a sitting president, we are not looking at the common, run of the mill people here.) In a sense, Brooks focuses on the life-style and social world of those who would probably be reading the book (like us!), and he also feeds into our modern (or maybe not so modern) fascination with the rich and successful (in which Brooks provides us with a book length copy of People Magazine). Which then leaves a lot of people out of the mix, as you mention. To be far, it would be an awfully long book if ALL were included. But, so much is lost–especially the hard questions of fate and determination that confront those who don’t make in our society, and the destructive relationships and codependency that wire others in a less successful way. This part of our society–which is today the bigger part of our society–seems overlooked as well. I think there might be another book in this…what do you think?

    Thanks again for an insightful and thought provoking post, Carol.

    • Hi John…
      You are so right, if Brooks had included many more perspectives we would be reading a much longer book! I wonder if the path he chose is in itself revelatory. He describes the trajectory that fits with a kind of life we are supposed to pursue in America, doesn’t he? I think though that Brooks has done us a service – there is a humility that seems to be embraced in the evolution of time. How we take that and apply it where we are might be the hidden encouragement.

  2. Miriam Mendez says:

    Carol, Very insightful post! You wrote, “Perhaps the gift of this book is within the layers, the intermingling and the humility that is presented. In helping us to understand how the soul develops and operates we are given a glimpse into whom and how we love and how we are transformed. I am reminded of the sacredness of life.” Inviting us to look at the unconscious is an invitation to look deeper and not simply to look at what is in front of us–which is what we tend to do. Perhaps that is what Brooks means when he writes, “we are not who we think we are.” Just wondering…. Thanks, Carol.

    • Miriam…
      I am a little calmer now so I can reply without screaming, Go Hawks!” 🙂 That quote — “we are not who we think we are” is one that just sort of ‘sits with you’ and works it way in. Rather than a statement or an assertion, perhaps it is an invitation.

  3. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Carol
    A thought provoking blog, at a time of great transformation within your home, by the sounds of it 🙂
    A few thoughts…I wonder how you feel as you lay down new carpets, paint the walls new colours and essentially, create for yourselves a whole new image, a whole new home. Do you recall the many memories the old carpets and walls have seen as you get rid of the old? I ask because even the very things we live among have subconscious influence upon us, don’t they? Even the environment we live in affects us, our moods, our decisions, our relationships.
    You also mention generational poverty. Brooks makes me think how we can also suffer from relational poverty, whatever our economic background. The poorest of people economically can enjoy the greatest quality of relationships, and vice versa. Do your books touch on that? Life is more than economic wealth.
    Anyway, I must stop rambling. A well written blog Carol!

    • Ashley says:

      Liz & Carol,

      I, too, was thinking about relational poverty in conjuction with generational poverty, and as I began to write, I saw that Liz had also picked up on that! (Great minds really do think alike!) I spent a good amount of my time being raised by my grandparents… It’s effected me immensely, as I am more comfortable around folks 20-40 years older than those my own age. Even my new boyfriend is a bit older than I am! (I digress…!) The older generation of my grandparents valued sitting on the porch drinking sweet tea and having Sunday afternoon visits with neighbors. I praise God for this, as I am reminded of my grandparents everytime I am out and about in the “mission field” with relationally-oriented cultures. They taught me the value of sitting under a tree and whittling away at wood. All this to say, I’d love to hear more about this generational, and relational, poverty. I know if I took a poll today of those in my congregation…”things” would rate much more highly than “people.”

      Such good thoughts, Carol!

      • Ashley…
        This morning at church we had the privilege to have a First Nations group called Mending Wings Ministry lead our worship. One of the things they “do” is a cultural class called “Footprints of our Elders” where the elders teach about community – a way of life is passed on. I am realizing more and more how much I/we have to learn from our brothers and sisters in other nations and other cultures, including other religions.

        Check out Ruby Payne’s work at Aha! Process (google it and I’m pretty sure it will come up).

    • Liz…
      It has been interesting … the biggest challenge might be in making decisions. 🙂 The remembering has come in another place. My husband’s family home sold in November and the house “closed” just after Christmas. We took our youngest daughter to say goodbye. The memories were profound as we walked through the house one last time and blessed it as well for the new owners.

      Liz… profound thought on the relational poverty. Understanding how relationships are viewed and the responsibility to others in generational poverty is significant. I think Brooks gave us insight into how relationship ebbs and flows and matures. At various places in the book Brooks points to doing the best that we can with what we know. It speaks to a certain about of grace that enables us to continue on.

  4. Carol,

    Brilliant, insightful post. I loved it! Thanks for sharing here. I was especially taken by your words, “When things are possessions, as they are in the middle class we might begin to understand more fully why even the Church might be fixated on presentation, buildings, and expertise.”

    A good friend of mine works with churches and pastors. He is a simple men with a lot of wisdom. When he talks with pastors and churches he is trying to help, he often asks the question, “What makes for a successful church?” Overwhelmingly, he gets answers that include the three “B’s”: Bodies, Bucks, and Buildings. He then asks how Jesus would measure success. This leads to good conversations. Sometimes, Jack’s comments are accepted; other times, they are rejected. After all, everyone wants to be successful.

    I will be honest here. I don’t understand the purpose of the church, at least not in modern American culture. My wife and I find ourselves at the awkward place of “trying to find a church” right now. I hate being in this place. It’s uncomfortable to walk into places where we are obviously “outsiders.” Also, it would be nice to find a place where there is a sense of God’s Presence. I have not felt that Presence for too long. Are we hoping to find a place of perfection? No. We are merely trying to find a place that works for us. We don’t want something slick; rather, we are looking for a place that is real. Will we find it? I don’t know. But we are not giving up the search, at least we don’t want to give up.

    So what is your research saying about couples like my wife and me? I would guess that there are a lot of us out there: late 50’s, Christians, looking for real fellowship. I look forward to reading your results!

    • Bill…
      Maybe we could talk in the near future about your church experience. I too am learning what it means for us to be church and what we are to be. This morning at the church I am part of Mending Wings Ministry (youth) led us in worship as they called us to worship and danced their prayers. The sense that we are larger and something bigger was present as was the vivid reality that we are to receive from one another. I know your DMin work is vital. Stay with it!

      Prayers for you in your searching and may you have peace as you do…

  5. Stefania Tarasut says:

    Carol, I’m so used to looking at things through the lense of couples that sometimes I don’t even notice when singles are left out. You’re right though! Thank you for pointing this out… I’m single! Most of the time, society seems to think that I’m missing something, or that I’m incomplete because of my singleness… but I do believe that singles have a lot to contribute to community and to the fabric of society. I don’t know if this is what you meant… but these are the thoughts that your post provoked.

    • Stefania…
      I am just aware that we often do not “see” single women or single men in the Church and if we were to follow the television ads then everyone that is single is signing up for Match, Christian Single (or is that Mingle?), and/or E-Harmony. And what you offer and know is exactly what I was thinking. If we are able to embrace the humility that Brooks demonstrated as manifest the book’s story then we could allow humility to form in us more fully to recognize that we all have something valid to offer.

  6. Clint Baldwin says:


    That’s the trick really. Even for Payne. Payne’s delineation is eminently helpful. That is, it’s helpful, unless we take it as sacrosanct and all-inclusive (which I’m not suggesting you do).
    Of course, she’s offering generalizations, but these generalizations so often become defining. Some generationally poor might perhaps value things or expertise. Some might value legacy factors. It’s so exhausting to allow the layers to rise-to-the-surface and become visible. It’s so much easier (and sometimes more pleasant) to categorize.

    If nothing else transpired (and it did), Brooks’ reminding a person of the “sacredness of life” communicates to me that this book is a success.

  7. Carol! 🙂 I caught in your post “But there are layers and important things might be hidden within the information layers.” This is so true! We, like trees have layers/growth rings that shape us. Tragedies that hurt and skew our outlook. I have counseled with people who have had incredible stories that you begin to wonder how they even lived through such tragedy/abuse. Lord, forgive us as we do not remember the sacredness of life.

    I would like to recognize the myriad influences of our responses that ultimately define our progress through the years. How I fell in love with my wife and how I chose my education/career path. Wow. It seems to me that I have always been a man of passion and move according to those passions. Seeing Michelle for the first time saying/praying “Lord, that one will do nicely.” Then heading across that room and going up to her and proposing marriage that night. Though it took a year and half for her to say yes we just celebrated 24 years this past January 4th. I wonder how brooks would classify us? ha. Anyway, passion, emotions, rational thinking all mixed together… Amazing.

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