Thoughts and Quotes from “The Second Mountain” by David Brooks

The subtitle to this book is “The Quest for a Moral Life”. Based on that alone, I would have never planned to read this book. I am a fan of David Brooks, but I am not an advocate of performance based spirituality. This book cover leads me to believe that the book falls squarely into that exact category of religious literature. No thanks!

So, why did I read the book?

I have a great friend and mentor in my life. He brilliantly guides me and causes me to think through a calculated process of questions and conversation. If my recollection is correct, he has never given me a directive. Yet, at the end of a recent lunch, he closed with, “What are you reading?” … “Read The Second Mountain by David Brooks next.” That was it. No explanation. No conversation. Just instruction.

I heeded. I am glad I did. There are parts of the book I disliked, parts I learned from and parts that I was confident were written as a biography on my life (ch 21). The stories are all different, but the emotions, process and outcomes are so clearly mine.

A quick summary of the book is closely connected to the primary title – moving on from societal goals to more worthy, fulfilling aspirations. That really is what the book is about, but has nothing to do with why I loved the book. My affection for the book came through a sense of affirmation of thought. Hard to explain, I just felt like I had a friend in those pages and that I really am okay.

Here are a few quotes I marked along the way (no where close to everything I marked up as that would essentially require me to retype a significant percentage of the book):

  • Joy is not just a feeling, it can be an outlook.
  • Good character is a by-product of giving yourself away.
  • This pattern – not being present to what I love because I prioritize time over people, productivity over relationship – is a recurring motif in my life.
  • Most of the time we aim too low.
  • “A life of ease is not the pathway to growth and happiness.” – Benjamin Hardy
  • If you can create a social movement that people want to join, they will bend their energies and ideas to you.
  • Never underestimate the power of the environment you work in to gradually transform who you are.
  • Acedia is the quieting of passion.
  • You can’t compensate for having a foundation made of quicksand by building a new story on top.
  • What does it profit a man to sell his own soul if others are selling theirs and getting more for it?
  • “He who has a ‘why’ to live for can endure any ‘how’.” – Nietzsche
  • Community is connection based on mutual affection… Tribalism is connection based on mutual hatred… Tribalism is community for lonely narcissists.
  • There’s nothing intrinsically noble about suffering. Sometimes grief is just grief, to be gotten through.
  • Suffering that is not transformed is transmitted.
  • “Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.” – Louis de Bernieres
  • The soul is the piece of your consciousness that has moral worth and bears moral responsibility.
  • We are capable of great acts of love that self-interest cannot fathom, and murderous acts of cruelty that self-interest cannot explain.
  • “Real freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones.” – Tim Keller
  • “Love your crooked neighbor with all your crooked heart.” – W. H. Auden
  • If you’re trying to discern your vocation, the right question is not What am I good at? It’s the harder questions: What am I motivated to do?
  • If you know what you want to do, start doing it.
  • You can be knowledgeable with other men’s knowledge, but you can’t be wise with other mean’s wisdom.
  • The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.
  • “Forgiveness isn’t an act; it’s an attitude.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Ideas have consequences.
  • Be watchful over what you love, because you become what you desire.
  • The alchemy of time.
  • The pushy are blessed for the getteth shit done.
  • “The central message of the Gospel is not the teachings of Jesus, but Jesus himself.” – John Scott
  • The weak and outcast are are often closer to God than the great and the wise, because they are further from pride and self-sufficiency.
  • Religion is not theology, despite the tendency of bookish people to want to make it so. It is not sensation, despite the tendency of mystical people to want to make it so, It is betting your life that a myth is true.
  • Faith – not a steady understanding but a kind of desire, or maybe a kind of hunch. It is not so much knowing God in all his particulars but a constant motion toward something that half the time you don’t even feel.
  • Many of the walls in the Christian world were caused by the combination of an intellectual inferiority complex combined with a spiritual superiority complex.

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