Reflecting on David Brooks’ Q Talk on Humility at #qdc

Photo by Ken Worth


I was excited that Q invited David Brooks this year for a couple reasons. One, I appreciate his thinking, two, I really liked Bobos in Paradise, three, he’s Jewish and we need great voices speaking into the Church, even if they identify themselves as outside of our faith.

In his introduction he told a story of Dwight Eisenhower who apparently had a terrible temper when he was a young child. During one of his tantrums, instead of consoling him, his mom told him that, “He that conquers his own soul his greater than he who conquers a city.” Eisenhower would later say that was the greatest piece of advice anyone had ever given him and that quote served as an excellent backdrop for the 18 minute presentation.

Brooks noted that in today’s culture, there is a shift in self-conception, low pre-self occupation, and the sense of vocation differs greatly from that of previous generations. To illustrate this, he cited a number of disturbing stats that illustrated American arrogance. The formula basically was asking a group of engineers, accountants, etc, about their job performance, get a high number of self-approval, find a statistic that completely undermined their effectiveness, safety record, etc. thereby revealing their collective arrogance. I know I ruined the illustration but it was kinda funny.

Along with our vocational arrogance, there is the cultural trend that personal debt has increased in young generations, public debt as well. The idea is that current generations push the cost onto their future generations, past generations didn’t do that. Brooks was very clear – all of this is connected.

He touched on the way we handle risk and, the nature of polarization today but paid special attention to the idea of “moral inarticulateness”. He said, “We have raised a generation of good people but inarticulate of morality. They have no vocabulary for morality, we told people to discover their own morality.” Powerful.

There was a little humor as well, he mentioned how some 20’s and 30’s admitted how much they wanted to be famous. In fact, some said that they would prefer fame over sex. Brooks said something like, “As one who enjoys some relative fame, believe me, sex is better.” I do wonder about the admission of the 20’s and 30’s. It seems to be more about access than the actual experience. Meaning, it’s easer for that age group to find sex than fame and that becomes the allure. It probably also has to do with the notion that fame and power inevitably allow for things like sex, money, travel, connections to celebrities, material amenities/experiences connected to pop-culture’s “good life.” But that’s another story.

There are a lot of people talking about humility these days. And generally, I consider that as a good thing unless it’s just the token “humility” talk to insert in the conference that goes on about how amazing we are. In truth, initially I wasn’t particularly excited to discover Brooks was going to talk about humility but he did such a great job framing it against our cultural mindset, it’s a presentation that comes back to mind frequently.

In thinking about it, my appreciation is largely due to his critiquing of his fellow Boomers in order to help X’ers and Millennials. Further, though he was contrasting inter-generational arrogance with previous generations, I did not get the sense that he was romanticizing them. Like countless others in my generation, we are inspired by the many who have walked these roads before us, so the Eisenhower illustration works. Our frustration lies more with the over-prescribing and the undermining tone along with the hypocrisy that we have found among our elders (that’s among the reasons why so many have either been jaded by or have completely given up on the institution and organized anything).

And so the cycle finds itself ready to repeat itself. Thus, humility (and self-awareness) becomes a key virtue, not only for us personally but for us as a society. We cannot serve the issues of the world with unresolved hearts. For me, our personal and collective arrogance has everything to do with where we have found our sense of identity and how/what we are really pursuing with our lives. May among our prayers be that we in all generations rely on God to tame our souls so we can bless our families, our neighborhoods and our world.

For more on Q check out:
Q Ideas –  They will be making these presentations available soon for subscribers. I think it’s a worthwhile investment (I think all the talks will be available for around $50-75)

David Brooks’ New York Times Opinions Page

My other posts on  #QDC so far here like:

Reflecting on Mark Batterson’s 5 Points on Church & Place at Q

Reflecting on Andy Crouch’s Discussion on Power (And How it Relates In the Church Sector) at Q


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