Recently, I read one of his columns. The focus was when to follow convention, that is, when should we go along with tradition or do whatever all the other folks are doing. Alternatively, when should we consider going it alone? When do we say no to the conventional and strike out on our own? As usual, I was captivated by the analysis Brooks offered on this matter. Let me pick out some of the key points, since I think they easily relate to our spiritual journeys.
Brooks began by dealing with the stereotypical American mythology that we are a country of rugged individualists. In my own day this was epitomized by the Marlboro man. I suppose that was an appealing figure, even for those of us who never smoked. The Marlboro man was a good-looking, outdoors’ kind of guy. He dressed like the solitary cowboy who was independent, strong and would surely get his way. He was the appropriate alter-ego for all of us who were more dependent, not so strong and seemed hardly to ever get our own way. We could live vicariously through him.
This figure surely never really cared what other folks thought. He was his own man---a man’s man (whatever that was supposed to mean). You could be his friend, but he did not need you! And this is precisely where David Brooks’ analysis kicked in to make a convincing point. And Brooks’ point seems to me to be a key spiritual point.
Brooks comments, “In reality, of course, we do care what other people think. We are wired to connect, to seek the admiration of others. We want to be part of community…” Based on my own experience, he is exactly on target. It seems clear to me that most of us do care what other people think. We may pretend that we don’t care, but for most folks, this is a lie. We care deeply. Brooks even believes we are wired to connect and we naturally seek admiration of others. Again, I think he is correct.
I think this comes close to a spiritual axiom of mine. I believe were all created in the image and likeness of the Holy One. We were created by God’s love and we were created for love. That love has a double focus. We were created to be in a loving relationship with the Creator and we were also created to be in loving relationships with each other. Again Brooks gets it right when he says that we want to be part of community.
Community is a huge word for me; it is a deep spiritual word. The dual love-focus with God and with each other is captured in the word community. We were not created to be Marlboro men and women. It might be true that we don’t need each other (although I doubt that). But it is true---spiritually true---that we want each other. Love is a driver to relationships and to community. To be an outsider and to snub love is to be strange and estranged. In fact, it is anti-communal!
The next point Brooks makes is a telling critique of our times and our culture. He says, “we live at a time of intense social insecurity.” For some reason, that is both funny and sad. It is funny because it seems to be a play on words. Some of us are old enough to be getting social security…and yet we live in a time of intense social insecurity! And it is sad because it is doubtlessly true. The alternative, of course, is love and community.
Brooks makes one final point to introduce here. He comments, “We are also living during an epidemic of conditional love. Many parents bestow or withdraw affection depending on how well their children are achieving, producing millions of young people without secure emotional foundations, who pine for any kind of approval.” Even if this is only half true, it is tragic.
Again, it is a spiritual indictment of our culture. Conditional love means there are conditions you have to meet to gain love. It is our way of saying, “I will love you if…” It is hard to imagine The Divine One saying that. I am convinced there is in the heart of each one of us a longing for the assurance of holy Love and the solace of human love that comes through community. We pine for the assurance of relationships that confirm and comfort us in our deepest places.
All of this is why, ultimately, the spiritual figures are more appropriately Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammed, Moses and so many other religious giants. They knew the power of spiritual relationships and the peace of the spiritual communities. In my heart of hearts, I want what they wanted. I am ready to leave this culture of intense social insecurity.