David Brooks: "The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement"
For generations, American culture has celebrated the power of the individual. But recent brain research suggests the idea of community may be more important to humans than previously thought. Simply put, we’re not rational animals, we’re social animals. David Brooks, New York Times columnist and author of Bobos In Paradise, spent three years culling research on sociology, neuroscience and philosophy to understand how emotions shape our lives. He explored how these findings might change the way we see ourselves, conduct business, manage relationships, and practice politics. David Brooks talks with Diane about why he believes humans crave contact and community above all else.
columnist with the "The New York Times" and author of "Bobos in Paradise."
Author Extra: David Brooks Answers Audience Questions
Q: Over a decade ago, I was adjunct faculty in a local Leadership program. While the program utilized a plethora of psychometric measures, the most convincing example of leadership behavior I witnessed was that of a young man who was one of 12 siblings. He actually anticipated the group's needs and appeared to do so with no ego motivations. Did you find that, culturally, we tend to rely on measures that have academic cache and dismiss the more obvious factors for leadership, career preferences, etc. such as birth order, family size and the like? - From Shela in Arlington
A: I’d say we have two different sets of measures in society. College admissions committees rely on grades and SAT scores and some people judge others by what college they went to. But the things that get you in to the Ivy League are not necessarily the things that help you excel in life, or even make a lot of money. There’s been a fair bit of research on this and there is a low correlation between attending a prestigious college and making a lot of money. Employers are looking for exactly those leadership skills you describe. It’s just that they have a hard time defining it. And if this is true in the workplace, it’s even more true in other parts of life, where people like the young man you describe are rare and invaluable.
Q: I have two related questions. Has Mr. Brooks read "The Politics of Denial" by Milburn and Conrad? This book highlights the power of parenting on the formation of conservative political views. Second question is has his research enlightened him to how early development creates adult political identity? - From Fred in Phoenix
A: I have not read that book, but I’m a little suspicious of a lot of the explanations of that sort I have read, linking, say, authoritarian fathers to political conservatism. I’d say where you grow up matters more than parenting style. People who grow up in Wyoming are more conservative than people who grow up in San Francisco. Any difference in parenting styles are probably washed away by the larger cultural differences. Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia has done a lot of work trying to isolate different political value systems. His work is the best I’ve seen.
Q: More and more schools are changing from alternative education programs to computer-based learning due to tightening budgets. Many alternative education students are the very ones who need small group learning and building student/teacher bonds. Regular high school hasn't worked for them. Their social interactions are less than productive. Putting them in front of computers seems counter productive if our goal is to graduate socially appropriate, emotionally healthy, productive problem solvers. Thoughts? - From Penny in Michigan
A: I’m hopeful that we can combine the two techniques. That is, many companies are trying to devise computer programs that will tailor information transmission to each student’s learning approach. Then teachers would be free to move around from student to student coaching them as they run into difficulty. That may allow for more interaction, not less.
Audio Excerpt: The Social Animal