Renowned author and columnist for The New York Times David Brooks spoke about modesty’s value for this generation in front of an overcrowded Copley Formal Lounge Monday night.
Although known as a prominent political commentator, Brooks avoided partisan remarks Monday in the talk held by the Tocqueville Forum. He spent his talk noting experiments that examine the rise of narcissism in our generation and offered an appeal to the value of humility.
“I don’t think David Brooks’ speech is going to make anyone less ambitious,” said Matthew Gorey (COL ’12). “But he can get people to take a more modest approach. [For] myself, listening to that speech is going to make me take a more humble approach to what I do.”
Sprinkling his talk with anecdotes about golf, horror movies and the impact of Katy Perry, Brooks struck a chord with many students.
“I tend to be a very confident person, but you don’t want to be that confident if that confidence is misplaced,” said Scott Hampton (SFS ’14). “In political theology, Socrates realized he was the wisest man in Athens because he knows that he doesn’t know, and I really related that anecdote to Brooks’ speech.”
Citing the example of an Auschwitz survivor, Brooks also stressed the importance of perseverance and strength.
“None of us want to lead unhappy lives, none of us want to have to go to Auschwitz,” he said. “But it seems to me that that strength of character is something we can translate to the happier times we live in … it seems to me that nobody wants to live in the 1930s, but that strength of self-effacement seems to me worth recapturing in some way.”
His answers in the Q-and-A session shifted between politics and sociology but ultimately focused on his criticism of society.
“Brooks has done a remarkable critique of young American society on the premise that there’s been a shift from the self-effacing to the self-congratulatory,” said Rev. Arne Panula, director of D.C.’s Catholic Information Center. “His argument evolves to point out an underlying fragility.”
Brooks discussed the importance of humility in learning through a reference to the movie and popular children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are.”
“Max tries to tame the wild things but fails, and that’s the way life actually is,” Brooks said. “This is a recipe for being unsure of what yourself is, a way of being — my favorite phrase — epistemological — aware of actually how little you know.”