DMINLGP

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

Unconscious Connections

Written by: on January 16, 2015

I must confess that when the first sentence in the introduction of a book begins with “this is the happiest story you’ve ever read,[1] I can’t help but  be a bit skeptical. David Brooks, author of The Social Animal: The Hidden Source of Love, Character and Achievement begins his book with such a sentence. Now, I probably would not say that this is the happiest story I’ve ever read, but it is certainly a story that has captured by attention.

According to Brooks there have been a plethora of books written about how people succeed.  These books, as Brooks states, focus on a person’s IQ, wealth, prestige and accomplishments. I would add that this is not uncommon in our everyday conversations. “What do you do?” “Where did you go to school?” “Who do you know?” “What have you done?” All these are questions that you and/or I have either asked or have been asked. And depending on the answer, we will either be impressed or unimpressed.

What I find fascinating is Brooks’ argument about what leads to success. He claims that it is not the outside (conscious) but the inner mind (unconscious) that leads to success.  “If the study of the conscious mind highlights the importance of reason and analysis, study of the unconscious mind highlights the importance of passions and perception. If the outer mind highlights the power of the individual, the inner mind highlights the power of relationships and the invisible bonds between people. If the outer mind hungers for status, money, and applause, the inner mind hungers for harmony and connection.”[2]

According to Brooks there are two levels of the mind, one unconscious and the other conscious, and he claims that the unconscious is more important than the conscious when it comes to determining what we do. It is in the unconscious mind that, as Brooks states, we hunger for harmony and connection, we long for relationships and human bonding.

In an effort to illustrate his findings, Brooks creates two characters – Harold and Erica. From birth to old age, he describes the lives of Harold and Erica. A critical part of their lives are the connections and relationships that have been present. For better or for worse Harold and Erica are impacted by their families, friends, co-workers, teachers, and strangers. Take for example Erica’s life.

As children we don’t choose the families we are born into, but we are deeply impacted by them. Erica was born to a mother who suffered from bouts of manic depression and a father who was physically absent. Her social status was constantly changing and at times would find herself not far from the poverty line. Yet, there was a fire and a fight in Erica. Where did this fire come from? Perhaps it was from her experiences of carrying her belongings in small plastic bags, saying good-bye to the comforts of the middle class, getting crammed into the spare room of relatives or friends or living in a decrepit empty apartment in some half-abandoned neighborhood.[3] Perhaps these reasons and the decision her friend made to stab and kill a classmate forced Erica to fight and say “no more—I will not put up with this anymore!” It was this fire and fight in Erica that helped her get into the Academy. This was a turning point for her. The second turning point was meeting the Hispanic businesswoman who would have a great impact on Erica.

I wonder what would have happened to Erica if she had not enrolled in the Academy? I wonder how successful Erica would have been if she had not met the Hispanic businesswoman?

This makes me think of my own relationships. How am I different because of the people I have met? Or, how successful am I because of the people I have met? Who are the people that have played a positive and/or negative role in your life? In what way or ways have they impacted you?

According to Brooks we are social animals because we have the social skills that enable us to teach, learn, sympathize, emote, and build cultures, institutions, and the complex mental scaffolding of civilizations.[4]  “Our unconscious wants to reach outward and connect. It wants you to achieve communion with work, friend, family, nation and cause. Your unconscious wants to entangle you in the thick web of relations that are the essence of human flourishing. It longs and pushes for love.”[5]

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

[2] Ibid., ix.

[3] Ibid., 103.

[4] Ibid., xiv.

[5] Ibid., xvi.

About the Author

Miriam Mendez

8 responses to “Unconscious Connections”

  1. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Hi Miriam, Great post! I like how emphasis the interconnectedness between our conscious and unconscious minds. You ask great question! Like you say, Erica’s turning points were critical for enrolling in the Academy and later on meeting the Hispanic businesswomen. Erica’s life is a great example that education alone is not enough to get us where we want, but we need people who would mentor us and help us along the way. Thanks again!

    • Miriam Mendez says:

      Telile, Yes I agree…education alone is not enough—we need more—connections, mentors, community to help us see what we don’t see for ourselves to help us know ourselves better. Thanks!

  2. Miriam!
    This book and your post seem to underscore something that seems to be slowly dawning for me and where I sense a challenge lies. When we think about “social” in our society or culture the tendency is toward the outward skills necessary to succeed or ones that are affirmed and noticed. Brooks draws us toward the inner formation that is reflected outwardly — some of it discloses our shallowness, some acknowledges how one works the system and perhaps even survives. I sense the challenge, even the tension of this in the Church, yet all the while facing the reality that to understand another takes time, we have our perceptions but that perception may not be reality.

    Your questions about the what if for Erica … what if she had not gone to the Academy, etc. hit home for me. Lingering over this book, I thought about the people I was serving yesterday at our church’s soup kitchen. Some are regulars that I am beginning to know and others though they often come are hindered in their ability to interact. Life’s hardship and choices seem outside the sphere of Brooks work. In the book “General Theory of Love” the authors recognize that we become like the thing we love, such becoming perhaps also means that in this process of life become as we learn how to love toward what we love.

    Thanks for fostering our learning this weekend! 🙂

    • Miriam Mendez says:

      Carol, You mention that in the “General Theory of Love” the authors recognize that we become like the thing we love, such becoming perhaps also means that in this process of life become as we learn how to love toward what we love. I guess the first thing I thought of was Love God, Love others….but what happens when we “love” the things that harm us and destroy us? hmm…I guess we also start looking like those things as well. Got me thinking….

  3. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Miriam
    Such a great post! I really appreciate where you wrote, “This makes me think of my own relationships. How am I different because of the people I have met? Or, how successful am I because of the people I have met? Who are the people that have played a positive and/or negative role in your life? In what way or ways have they impacted you?”
    I am constantly amazed at the influence, positive and negative, that people can have upon us. And the differences in quality of relationships we can have with one another. Those relationships that thrive are those that can extend grace and forgiveness to one another. Of this I am becoming increasing convinced. But those that do not are often, sadly, lacking these components.
    Some people I have met are so beautiful on the inside, and what a joy it is to meet such people. Indeed, we have the power to play such a positive role in each other’s lives. To have such good impact. May God give us the love and strength we need to rise up to the challenge! 🙂

  4. Miriam,

    Nicely done. Loved reading your post, especially your questions about Erica. “I wonder what would have happened to Erica if she had not enrolled in the Academy? I wonder how successful Erica would have been if she had not met the Hispanic businesswoman?” These are great questions, and I wondered the same things.

    There are no self-made people. We are all a mix of others who have had influence in our lives — for better or for worse. We each need to apply what we learn from the healthy and reject what we have learned from the unhealthy. And, each of us influences others either for good or for bad. This is a huge responsibility. How am I influencing others?

    John Powell defined love as having three facets: acceptance, encouragement, and challenge. I believe that we need all three of these in our relationships. It would not be balanced if all I did was to accept everyone. This is popular today. But encouragement is also necessary. And encouraging others is a learned skill. Finally, there is that challenge piece. I need friends who challenge me to grow and change. And I am glad that I have such friends. Oh that I would love others fully and influence them for good.

  5. mm John Woodward says:

    Hi Miriam! Great to be receiving posts again from my cohort. I especially appreciated your perspective on the book. The question you brought up is one that came to my mind (and I wrote on in Carol’s post). It seems that indeed Brooks paints for us a very happy story, but it seems that those who have the right connections, who meet the right people or in the right place at the right time are few and far between. If he were to write a book about the “real make-up” of our society, of those who never make it into the academy or meet the right person, it would be such a happy story? Erica’s, who has a troubled beginning, who makes it all the way to being a president’s advisor, is not the norm. I have been wondering up the millions who have are born into generational poverty and disfunction, whose stories aren’t so happy….and how often they make it out. I wish Brooks would do another book, to look at this other side of the equation and ask the question of the chances of those who might not be so lucky to move ahead in life. I feel very blessed…maybe that is why I feel such a need to watch out for those who are not so luck! Thanks your getting me thinking more on these issues!

  6. Michael Badriaki says:

    Dear Miriam, great post and Happy New Year!! Thank you for pointing and drawing out one of the things I also found myself reflecting on. In that manner you paused significant questions like, ” How am I different because of the people I have met? Or, how successful am I because of the people I have met? Who are the people that have played a positive and/or negative role in your life? In what way or ways have they impacted you?”

    I wrote my blog with such questions in mind as I was reminded that I have be influenced and impact by the lives of many people both consciously and subconsciously.

    Your questions are necessary because if one thinks that they are “self-made” then according to Brook, they “… are not who they think they are.” Thanks

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