What Is This David Brooks Column About?
We are people, and people have lives. Lives involve losses. Losses of friends, of loved ones, of children, of parents. Everybody everywhere feels something about some loss sometime in this interconnected age; maybe even you feel things. Maybe then, also, you can explain what the hell David Brooks is on about in this column.
It is a wonderful thing in this interconnected age to have a platform for sharing your thoughts with millions of people, and to be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it. Sometimes those thoughts are specific and focused. Other times they are meaningless, fractals kissing oblivion in a distant solar wind. Tuesday's New York Times column, "Leaving and Cleaving," is about now, and now is one of those latter times in David Brooks' life. And maybe your life, too:
So much of life is about leave-taking: moving from home to college, from love to love, from city to city and from life stage to life stage.
Good columnists notice things, and the interconnectedness of those things. David Brooks is noticing the hell out of life right now, and making connections. Brooks, who is not divorced as yet and whose son is a world away and who is presumably happy in the $1.9 million house he bought last year with the wife who has not yet divorced him, notices that even in this interconnected age, it's hard to get people to connect with you when they decide not to be connected to your life anymore:
In earlier times, leaving was defined by distance, but now it is defined by silence. Everybody everywhere is just a text away, a phone call away. Relationships are often defined by the frequency and intensity of communication between two people.
The person moving on and changing a relationship no longer makes a one-time choice to physically go to another town. He makes a series of minute-by-minute decisions to not text, to not email or call, to turn intense communication into sporadic conversation or no communication. His name was once constant on his friend's phone screen, but now it is rare and the void is a wound.
It's not clear who these people in David Brooks' column are. Maybe they are specific people; maybe they are general types of people you meet in our interconnected age. Maybe they are you. We can't know everything. But we can know some things. Here are some things David Brooks knows:
1) David Brooks knows of some people in this interconnected age who are having a poor time communicating with other people right now.
If you are like me you know a lot of relationships in which people haven't managed this sort of transition well. Communication that was once honest and life-enhancing has become perverted — after a transition — by resentment, neediness or narcissism.
2) David Brooks knows some people whose hearts have been broken and who have maybe resorted to cyberstalking recently.
We all know men and women who stalk ex-lovers online; people who bombard a friend with emails even though that friendship has evidently cooled; mentors who resent their former protégés when their emails are no longer instantly returned; people who post faux glam pictures on Instagram so they can "win the breakup" against their ex.
Instant communication creates a new sort of challenge. How do you gracefully change your communication patterns when one person legitimately wants to step back or is entering another life phase?
3) David Brooks is just talking generally here, but it could be about a real person, any person. David Brooks knows how that person feels.
The paradox is that the person doing the leaving controls the situation, but greater heroism is demanded of the one being left behind. The person left in the vapor trail is hurt and probably craves contact. It's amazing how much pain there is when what was once intimate conversation turns into unnaturally casual banter, emotional distance or just a void.
The person left behind also probably thinks that the leaver is making a big mistake. She probably thinks that it's stupid to leave or change the bond; that the other person is driven by selfishness, shortsightedness or popularity.
4) David Brooks knows you have to let go, and not, like, make a thing out of it, especially out there on media, especially in this interconnected age.
Yet if the whole transition is going to be managed with any dignity, the person being left has to swallow the pain and accept the decision... The person being left has to suppress vindictive flashes of resentment and be motivated by a steady wish for the other person's ultimate good...
That means not calling when you are not wanted. Not pleading for more intimacy or doing the other embarrassing things that wine, late nights and instant communications make possible.
5) David Brooks knows this all might have something to do with the kids.
For example, to be around college students these days is to observe how many parents have failed to successfully start their child's transition into adulthood.
The mistakes usually begin early in adolescence...
6) David Brooks knows all about self-restraint and self-quieting in an age of interconnectivity.
Communications technology encourages us to express whatever is on our minds in that instant. It makes self-restraint harder. But sometimes healthy relationships require self-restraint and self-quieting, deference and respect (at the exact moments when those things are hardest to muster).
What is all this about? Who is all this about? David Brooks doesn't want to get into it, but you know who you are. Just please call him, already. It's not hard to do in this interconnected age.
[Photo credit: AP Images]
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