Thursday, June 11, 2009

Profound Words from David Brooks

David Brooks and Gail Collins co-author a blog called The Conversation. The posts are nothing spectacular, I read them mostly for personal insights about Brooks (because I'm weird like that).

In the most recent post Brooks remarks about how he's having difficulty coming up with anything relevant to say as keynote speaker to the graduating class at his former high school. Brooks rights these remarkably profound paragraphs:

At the moment, I’m thinking of talking about the chief way our society is messed up. That is to say, it is structured to distract people from the decisions that have a huge impact on happiness in order to focus attention on the decisions that have a marginal impact on happiness.

The most important decision any of us make is who we marry. Yet there are no courses on how to choose a spouse. There’s no graduate department in spouse selection studies. Institutions of higher learning devote more resources to semiotics than love.

The most important talent any person can possess is the ability to make and keep friends. And yet here too there is no curriculum for this.

The most important skill a person can possess is the ability to control one’s impulses. Here too, we’re pretty much on our own.

These are all things with a provable relationship to human happiness. Instead, society is busy preparing us for all the decisions that have a marginal effect on human happiness. There are guidance offices to help people in the monumental task of selecting a college. There are business schools offering lavish career placement services. There is a vast media apparatus offering minute advice on how to furnish your home or expand your deck.

To get information on private affairs, you have to go down-market to Oprah or Dr. Phil. Why are they the ones who have access to information on meeting life’s vital needs? I think I know why this situation came about. Men. Because of our habitual flight from intimacy, we men have spent thousands of years structuring elite public discourse so more attention is paid to the World Trade Organization than the parts of life that really matter.

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