Try To Stay Present

After a fun fiction jag, I’m reading David Brook’s #1 Best Seller in Philosophy of Ethics and Morality, The Second Mountain: The Quest For a Moral Life.

I’m only a third in, but my overwhelming thought so far is that it’s uneven. Some parts are clear, insightful and inspiring; others however, like Chapter Six, “Heart and Soul,” are so vapid I wonder if his editor is afraid of him. Brooks is like a batter that drills one pitch off the wall for a stand up double and then strikes out looking the next time up.

He argues Millennials are lost, which of course, is an exaggeration. Lost because nearly every American institution has declined in importance and young people are left with the admittedly inane advice to “do you” whatever you may be. He argues all people would benefit from living more committed lives to some combination of a vocation, marriage, philosophy and faith, or particular community.

He tells his story and stories of many others who prioritized their work lives and wealth and notoriety at the expense of deeper, more meaningful commitments based upon mutual vulnerability and selfless service. He’s best when he explains how these “Second Mountain” people lose themselves in listening and caring for others in ways that are mutually transforming.

The problem he slips into though is highlighting people whose transformations are so radical as to be nearly unrelatable. Like Kathy and David who extend dinner invitations to a hodgepodge of 40 struggling young people on a weekly basis. David left his job to create a nonprofit, All Our Kids, and gave his kidney to one of the young women when she needed a transplant.

Yeah, I’m sure I can high jump 10 feet if I just put my mind to it.

Or Etty Hillesum, a Jewish woman in Holland during World War II, who maintained a supernatural inner peace and joy all the way up to the point that her parents, brother, and she were killed in Auschwitz.

I set Brooks down for awhile to watch the first episode of HBO’s Chernobyl which is as scary a story imaginable for anyone who has ever worried about exposure to radiation at the dentist and/or airport. After that harrowing experience, I sought refuge in The New Yorker instead of immediately jumping back into Brooks.

There I think I found a more subtle and nuanced way forward for mere mortals like me. In a very short story about Maggie Rogers’s rise, John Seabrook, who hangs with her in New York one afternoon, tells this story:

A fan recognized her. “Wow,” he said. “Biggest fan. Can I actually ask a question?”

“Dude, I have no idea what I’m doing,” Rogers said, laughing.

“That’s what your album is about, right?” the fan asked. He was her age.

“Exactly,” Rogers said. “I’ve just really been trying to stay present.”

How does one stay present? By giving off a particular vibe that communicates “Heck no I’m not too busy for you.” By maintaining meaningful eye contact. By thinking about what others are saying instead of what you want to say the second they pause. By asking clarifying questions. By empathizing instead of problem solving. By learning to appreciate what’s unique about others.

Much easier to write than do.

 

 

Three Sentences to Ponder

From Wednesday’s New York Times.

1) Seven decades after the liberation of Auschwitz, a 93-year-old former SS member at the Nazi death camp shuffled into a German court on Tuesday to answer charges of complicity in the murders of 300,000 mostly Hungarian Jews in two months during the summer of 1944.

2) About 6,500 members of the SS worked at the camp; only 49 have been convicted of war crimes.

3) Among (the co-plaintiffs) is Eva Fahidi, 90, of Budapest, who lost 49 relatives in the Holocaust, including her mother and sister, who were sent to the gas chambers upon arrival at Auschwitz.

The survivors should determine the path forward:

Fahidi was not satisfied with Mr. Gröning’s testimony and request for forgiveness. “After 70 years, he still behaves this way and is not capable of saying, ‘I am a sinner,’” Ms. Fahidi said.

Another survivor, Eva Kor, 81, of Terre Haute, Ind., was also adamant that “feeling guilty doesn’t accomplish anything.” While Ms. Fahidi said she longed for a formal judgment on Mr. Gröning, Ms. Kor argued that he should go out to schools and show “how much Nazism destroyed everybody’s lives.”

. . . the trial. . . coincides with modern atrocities in the Middle East and the commemoration of the Armenian genocide 100 years ago.

“It is an important point in looking at genocidal acts which happen today — that perpetrators perhaps do get taken to court,” Christoph Heubner, of the International Auschwitz Committee in Berlin, said in an interview before the trial. “Even when it is 70 years too late, it is a lingering, lasting signal.”

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