#102 – Do the Right Thing

What with “fake news,” demagoguery galore, politicized pastors and confused pundits the “right thing” is far from clear. Yes, even the vaunted journalists of the venerated New York Times can find themselves unable to hack through the tangled vines of our self-destructive narrative. Remember the Times editor, Bill Keller, who in the lead-up to the Iraq war became a “useful idiot” to the neo-conservatives as they intentionally lied to justify the “shock and awe,” their pre-determined reaction to the “useful victim” Saddam Hussein (Bill, Bill, What Were You Thinking).  To his credit he later recanted his support for the war realizing that he had been “hoodwinked.”

Speaking of hoodwinked journalists we revisit by means of a book review of his The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life our old friend David Brooks. In David’s book he reveals that his problem is not manipulation by disingenuous politicians but rather self-deception. We all do it.

We all struggle with trying to distinguish what is true in our lives from what is not true. Americans in particular of late either are confused about what the truth is, don’t seem to care what the truth is or are losing faith that it makes a difference what they think. Despite what some who are cynical might believe, truth is not relative. All human experience is either true or not true. It would behoove all of us to understand how to tell the difference. The realm of illusion and confusion where most of us live today is not a desirable narrative to inhabit.

The problem all of humanity has in common with David Brooks is the ego or what we label in these essays, the false self. “In its unrelenting focus on power, achievement and sensual gratification, it breeds a culture, both inner and outer of oppression, insecurity, addiction and loneliness.” (1)  In short, we cannot expect the ego to “do the right thing.”

So what David Brooks is contending with is not an immoral community or context but an identity which he chooses moment by moment in his own life. Despite our best efforts to leave the poor guy alone, the saga of David Brooks continues. He persists in offering himself up as an archetype of the American male’s evolving identity, a sad but revealing growth in self-awareness. “After his marriage of 27 years crumbled, a journalist looked inward and faced some difficult truths.” (1)

If Brooks wants to address morality he would do well to become more conversant with his own id-driven behavior, the repressed guilt related to those behaviors and his tendency to project that resultant unconscious shadow onto the other which includes all of his personal relationships and fellow homo-sapiens. As with most of us he is probably doing the best he can but is nevertheless avoiding taking responsibility for the repressed behavior of his id.

Any success in expressing moral behavior must begin with making the distinction between response and reaction. A response is accepting life as it is and opens the heart to compassion for all people. Reactions are motivated by fear and most of our energy is spent in resistance to life. “These resistances are usually bound up with projections, which are not recognized as such, and their recognition is a moral achievement beyond the ordinary.” (2)

Anyone as sincere and open as Brooks is to his own shortcomings is bound to have profound insights. First, he realizes that there is no other to receive his projections. “‘In the cherry blossom’s shade,’ a Japanese haiku reminds us, ‘there’s no such thing as a stranger.’ Surrender of [the] self awakens love and connection.” (1)

Secondly, he realizes the worldview of his community has created beliefs, attitudes and values that are self-destructive. “The rampant individualism of our ego-obsessed culture is a prison, he declares, a catastrophe.” (1)

And finally, our courageous hero senses what he must do even if he is not there yet. “In trying to crack the hard shell of his ego, Brooks yearns to wake up his heart and soul.” (1)

“The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook upon life. That I feed the hungry, that I forgive the insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ—all of these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, the very enemy himself—that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness—that I myself am the enemy who must be loved—what then? (3)

What then indeed! Click on the links below to find the answer.

Insight # 102:  To cling to the old theology is not only a failure of nerve but could involve a damaging loss of integrity.  –Karen Armstrong (4)

Links:   (All essays related to David Brooks)


  1. Epstein, Mark. “Contemplating a Journey Toward Faith.” The New York Times Book Review. May 12, 2019, page 15.
  2. Jung, C. G. The Portable Jung. New York: Penguin Books, 1971, pages 146-147.
  3. Wilber, Ken, The Spectrum of Consciousness. Wheaton, Illinois: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1977, page 200.
  4. Armstrong, Karen. A History of God. New York: Knopf, 1994, page 172.

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