Ideas that Resonate: "Social Animal" by David Brooks

A twitter link posted by Jad Abumrad of WNYC’s Radiolab steered me in the direction of this article in The New Yorker by David Brooks: “Social Animal”.

Strands from this article keep floating into my thoughts. It resonates with me because it aligns well with my viewpoint on how humans work. I’m shaped by the work of B. F. Skinner, and anyone who has read his work knows that that statement curls around on itself in a satisfying way. In the smallest of nutshells, I believe that we are who we are not only because of who we are at birth, but also because of the environments we grow up in, study in, work in, live in.

I am one of the last people who would have any interest in the ideas of Ayn Rand. I do not believe that we are individuals who can stand free of connection or culture. I’m with John Donne:

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

So, with that out of the way, why am I so taken with this article by David Brooks?
He looks to science for explanations about why we are who we are. Again and again throughout the article, Brooks refers to research studies, and ties his analysis to what these studies conclude. I look to science for my explanations as to why life, the world, the universe are what they are. Excellent convergence. Note: Brooks unfortunately does not include a bibliography of his sources, which are inconsistently referenced throughout the article. While this is The New Yorker and not a scientific publication, his article would be strengthened if he gave his readers easier access to his sources.

He is interested in the importance of the child’s environment in the first few years of his or her life. The article posits that deep, secure attachments between adults and children are the building blocks for social skills. Our happiness as adults is based upon the richness of our social networks, not on the size of our bank accounts, and our early connections teach us the skills we need to build those networks.

When I look at my own life, it does not seem as rich and full as it did a few years ago. After reading the article, I realize why. My social network has shrunk. I no longer attend our church, and our band has essentially dissolved. Life is home, where there are only two of us most days, and work. And the nature of my work is solitary and analytical. I feel my world shrinking. Ironically, as my world grows smaller, I grow crabbier, more closed in on myself, and less relaxed in my social interactions. My social skills are getting out of shape, just as my body gets out of shape if I don’t exercise.

It’s time for me to put my social network at the center of my life, to nurture it with thought and care. It’s time for me to reclaim happiness.


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