By ACF Staff
Climbing The Second Mountain
A recommended reading by Trustee, Bill Ebel.
David Brooks, one of the nation’s leading writers and commentators, is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times and appears regularly on the PBS NewsHour and Meet the Press. His latest book, The Second Mountain, explores the four ways individuals define a life of meaning and purpose: a spouse and family, a vocation, a philosophy or faith and a community. He’s not talking about monetary or career success. Those are the first mountain we climb in our society.
The second mountain is the one we climb after we’ve found success as individuals or after a traumatic event that makes us reexamine our lives. The second mountain is about finding a meaningful life that connects us to our community with an overarching purpose.
But we live in a society, Brooks argues, that has taken individualism to the extreme. Our society’s fabric has torn as a result. But there are two kinds of tears. One that rends the thing torn into a thousand irreparable pieces. The other spreads the fabric so that it can be wider and encompass more. The Second Mountain advocates a path to repair society’s fabric through making deeper commitments, sharing our stories and experiences and building those thick relationships that enmesh us in our communities. This weaves the tear together again. Service to others, he says, is the only way to weave and thicken our relationships and ultimately come to personal fulfillment.
The section of the book that resonates most to us at the Foundation is about community building. Brooks describes a healthy community that “is a thick system of relationships.” These relationships are dynamic, form organically and deeply personal. They are about knowing and interacting with neighbors, whether those neighbors are across the street or across town. But he also demonstrates convincingly that today’s communities have become bastions of isolation and loneliness. This has also given rise to an explosion of mental health issues, addiction and a growing suicide rate. Our current pandemic and need to distance ourselves further has only intensified these problems.
Building and rebuilding communities, he writes, involves seeing that the neighborhood, not the individual, is the essential unit of social change. And despite our metaphorical and physical distance, place does matter. We are all learning that lesson right now because we have been forced to stay in place. Now, more than ever, our neighborhoods and our connection to our neighbors matters.
We like that message at the Foundation, because it’s one we’ve been repeating for years. That our community is a beautiful tapestry of cultures, people and commitments to one another. That strengthening the least of us strengthens all of us. That the small steps we all take are part of a larger commitment to meaningful community conversations. That we can all climb the second mountain, together.