DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Closed Minds, Open Minds

Written by: on March 13, 2018

If you know me, chances are that you have gathered that my social and political leanings are a BIT left of center. Being a “liberal” in a conservative family and church tradition can easily put me into an “us vs. them” mindset if I’m not careful. In order to keep my mind and heart more open, I follow a handful of conservative writers, speakers, and theologians on social media as well as reading as many books and articles as I have time for. I do this selectively, relying on people I trust to lead me to people who do not present a caricature of conservatism but offer well-thought-out ideas. The result of this has been (to my delight) that I actually have a lot in common with these folks. I may not align fully with their politics (okay, I may not align AT ALL with some of their politics), but I find that the things we do have in common give us a place to start in reasonable disagreement.

 

David Brooks is one of these people. He is probably best described as right of center or even centrist by some. We are (roughly) the same age, and we view the world in VERY different ways, but he brings an intelligence and varying degrees of openness to his column in the New York Times and his other work as a political commentator. I almost never agree with his conclusions (well, except for the fact that neither of us have much respect for our current president), and I can only take small doses of his snark (can someone PLEASE come up with a new insult for liberals besides ‘snowflake?’), but I always enjoy the way he processes his thoughts and the journey he takes to get to those conclusions.

 

When Brooks’ book, The Social Animal, became popular a therapist friend of mine said that it was a great day for therapy. He took what my friend indicated therapists have known for a long time and puts it out there as new and exciting insights. Now people want to know about their unconscious decisions and hidden motives. I’m not a therapist, but I get the point – Brooks doesn’t really offer a lot of new information but he packages it in such a way that people who might never think about the way we process information can otherwise get on board.

 

One of Brooks’ tools in this book is a narrative written about Harold and Erica[1], which Brooks tells us in the very first sentence is “the happiest story you’ve ever read.”[2] In the narrative, Brooks introduces the ideas about subconscious life and thinking through the lives of these two people.

 

Maybe Brooks should stick with non-fiction because this is NOT the happiest story I’ve ever read, and Harold and Erica may be two of the most boring characters ever to exist. They are bland and, even in the angst of an extramarital affair, boring. No fire, no passion, no excitement.

 

I appreciate what Brooks tried to do with the narrative and, based on the fact that it is a New York Times best-seller, it seems he struck a nerve with people. He presents some good science on our need for socialization, the importance of experience and memory in intuitive decision-making, and the influence of “hidden” memories on our actions. (His thoughts about the importance of relationships in education, for example, are stellar and I would love to see him work with educators to work on a new kind of education reform.) The problem is that it is sometimes difficult to follow his logic and understand whether or not he has any proposed solutions. As reviewer Thomas Nagle notes, “When we discover an unacknowledged influence on our conduct, what should be our critical response? About this question Brooks has essentially nothing to say.”[3]  Even in his postscript, Brooks offers only that we should “develop an attitude of epistemological humility, an awareness of how little you are likely to know and how little you will understand the things you do know.”[4]

 

The beauty of science that is not fully explained by Brooks is that there is a pathway for change through the same influences that Brooks explains form who we are. We change as we learn, and we learn as we experience. Yes, we have to be aware of how little we know and how little we understand. We have to be open to the fact that we have biases and hidden motives. But to do this we must learn. “No matter how we behave, whatever our attitudes, whatever we believe, it all comes from a brain that got that way in the desperate struggle to survive…no outside influence or force can cause a brain to learn…one important rule for helping people learn is to help the learner feel she is in control.”[5] The science Brooks presents helps us understand likelihoods and possible outcomes, but understanding how we become open to learning helps us bring about change.

 

 

                  [1]. David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2011), xiii. Brooks states in the introduction that this narrative was styled in the manner of Emile by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Having read excerpts of Emile, I can only say that perhaps Brooks was broadly influenced by the idea.

                  [2]. Brooks, vii.

                  [3]. Thomas Nagle, “Book Review – The Social Animal – By David Brooks.” (The New York Times, March 11, 2011, sec. Sunday Book Review.) Accessed March 13, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/books/review/book-review-the-social-animal-by-david-brooks.html.

                  [4]. Brooks, 382.

                  [5]. James E. Zull, The Art of Changing the Brain, (Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2002), 52.

About the Author

Kristin Hamilton

12 responses to “Closed Minds, Open Minds”

  1. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Yes, Kristin, although I somewhat enjoyed the creative way the author weaved in stats and facts about humans, I also struggled with the lack of connection to the HOW this happened. You wrote: “The beauty of science that is not fully explained by Brooks is that there is a pathway for change through the same influences that Brooks explains form who we are. We change as we learn, and we learn as we experience.” He did not emphasize how the evolution and changes took place but rather implied it through the story and stereotypical facts. I would have liked more explanation on this. Great point!

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      I really appreciated that he wanted to make the science more accessible, Jen. I just think he forgot to explore the hope of change that exists in us. In light of what we learned in Leadership Pain and Overcoming the Dark Side…we know that there is hope when we lean in to our experiences.

  2. Mary says:

    Kristin I really love your openness and willingness to give the other side a shot. I see you as a person who is secure in herself and can use her strength to all the other person to be who they are.
    So I said that because I love the way you analyzed Brooks.
    I agree that he was not good on ultimate explanations. For example, he never tells how emotions are produced from neurons. Why did Erica push herself when the other 99 kids in her inner city school were content to just exist?
    But, as you say, we must understand something about how we change so that we can bring about the change.
    Delightful post as always!

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Wow. Thank you for the compliment, Mary! You are so right on with your question about Erica. I hadn’t thought about that!

  3. Mary says:

    I meant “allow”. I hate spell checker.

  4. Lynda Gittens says:

    Kristen, I agree with this statement. I had to skim this book a few times to find a point!

    The problem is that it is sometimes difficult to follow his logic and understand whether or not he has any proposed solutions.

    as usual, I enjoyed your blog

  5. Jim Sabella says:

    “We change as we learn, and we learn as we experience.” For some reason, I have been processing in these last two weeks how much I have changed since I began the DMin program. You have capitalized that change process in this one sentence. I never what to quit learning, which means I never want to stop changing. I realize that in order to live this kind of life you must be, in many ways, fearless! In that way, you are fearless Kristin. I always enjoy your posts. You are an excellent writer and fearless seeker of the truth. I welcome and appreciate your insights.

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      You made me cry, Jim. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement. We are all changing and growing together!

  6. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    “The happiest story”– well, there certainly was no “happily ever after” in the story. I wonder if he said that tongue-in-cheek, or perhaps meant it on a deeper level. What I read in the story was one of *ordinariness*; that we can consider ourselves happy with ordinary lives (though their stereotypical ordinariness is ordinary for only a certain class/type of people). Still, I read it that fireworks only explode occasionally, and we can find satisfaction with the quotidian life.

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      I have a feeling that you are right, Katy, and that’s what Brooks was trying to present. I guess maybe my life has a few more fireworks in the ordinary? 🙂

  7. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Kristin, Yes “understanding how we become open to learning helps us bring about change.” All human beings, I believe, share many things in common. How our brains function and operate are so fascinating. The way in which we learn and consume information shapes the way we live. I agree the more we understand the way we learn the more we will be able to pinpoint ways to bring about change 🙂

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