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. 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.” 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. 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.” Is he correct? What is it about stories? Are we Americans inclined toward redemptive stories? 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.” 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.
 Brooks, 377.
 Ibid., 370.
 Ibid., xiii.