David Brooks: How to Really Know Someone

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We may think we understand people. Where they are coming from. Why they act the way they act. … But what if we’re wrong? 

New York Times columnist David Brooks’ family motto was “Think Yiddish, Act British.” He knew how to keep a tight lid on his emotions, which could be useful… until he realized that he would need to learn a lot more about the role of empathy to love the people around him. Now, he’s sharing the result of his curiosity on how we might get better at really knowing people. Perhaps that simple skill can help combat the loneliness, despair, and the divides in our social fabric.

In this conversation, Kate and David discuss:

  • How to love people with severe depression
  • How to see people as beloved children of God
  • Practicing intimacy and empathy
  • The difference between illuminators and diminishers

CW: suicide

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Kate Bowler, David Brooks

Kate Bowler  01:52

I’m Kate bowler, and this is Everything Happens. We may think we understand people where they’re coming from why they act the way they act. What makes them tick. And I always assume I know why someone else is doing something. But what if we’re wrong? How do we get better at really knowing people? And might that skill help us combat the loneliness, the despair, the tears in our social fabric, our way of being together? Today I’m speaking with David Brooks. David is an opinion columnist for the New York Times where he writes about politics, culture and social sciences. He is also the author of best selling books like Bobo’s in paradise, oh my gosh, I had that on my bookshelf as a teenager. He has also written The Road to Character, the second mountain and his latest How to know a person, the art of seeing others deeply and being deeply seen. And David is also my friend, he has been a clutch friend to me. And I feel so lucky to get to sit across from him and have this conversation about the importance of friendship about why we crave intimacy and connection so much, and just how to get better at knowing the person in front of us. You’re going to love this conversation about you know, conversation. David, I love that we’re well, I always love seeing you. And I will also like that we’re having tea. Given that at the beginning of your book, you describe your upbringing as being not like the most emotionally open. You have like, what was it it was think British.


David Brooks  03:42

was a kind of Jewish like I opened by saying like, we all know from Fiddler on the Roof so we saw all these huggy Jewish families there dancing there and I come from the other side of the other kind of Jewish family and the phrase was thinking of the Shaq British, so super stiff upper lip. And my turtles when I was eight, named Israeli and Gladstone, she’s like, turtles themselves not being the most emotionally expressive animals on the face their limbic systems. And so we were like, we had a good night of childhood but like the words I love you, we’re not the sort of things that we would we would have done we’d like my parents were good. Once I got to the point where I could discuss French romantic poetry intelligently really opened up a lot more and now we have love now and well, we’ll we’re not going to express it. And so I evolved, or maybe this was genetic into an aloof personality type in my nursery school. The teacher said David doesn’t play with the kids he just observes. Like I’m for.


Kate Bowler  04:46

Go on to recruit observational.


David Brooks  04:48

Right, well, I tell journalism students if you’re at a football game, and you don’t do the way if you just sit there while everybody else is doing the way you love the right kind of aloof personality type any journalists we just watch? But it meant a little emotional coldness like emotional restraint through the first, many decades.


Kate Bowler  05:07

So you could watch a motion without it always, like pinging anything.


David Brooks  05:11

Yeah, I just didn’t express it it was just not part of my repertoire. You know, which was intellectual school literature, Chicago, I lived in Washington during policy writing, you know, the most emotionally avoidant place on the face of the earth, so it’s very easy to.


Kate Bowler  05:28

Make sense to go so fully cerebral, you entered into a journey of deciding to figure out how people connect, what are some of the societal implications of maybe choosing not to be that kind of person or not to be that kind of culture?


David Brooks  05:42

Yeah, well, I do think we live sort of in an epidemic of blindness, I’ve started to write the book because I was traveling around the country. And so many people told me they felt invisible. And these were people like in the Midwest who said, coastal eat some seeming, blacks who thought that whites don’t understand their daily experience. And they were like husband and wives who really should know each other best, realizing the other person has no clue. And so there’s just so much social blindness. And then it shows up in those statistics, like 54% of Americans say that no one knows them well.


Kate Bowler  06:17

And no one knows too long.


David Brooks  06:18

The number of people who say they have no, no close personal friend has quadrupled in the past few decades, the number of people who give themselves the lowest happiness rating has gone up by 50%. Like I can see all these statistics. They rate people they give you, you rate yourself on happiness levels. And the number of people who who rate themselves at the lowest level of happiness of possible happiness has gone up by 50% last two decades.


Kate Bowler  06:45

Oh, my god.


David Brooks  06:45

The worst stats are like high school kids. So they ask high school kids, do you feel persistently hopeless or depressed? And 45% say they do. And so it’s just one like, one bit of evidence after another, that we’re in the middle of some sort of social, emotional and relational breakdown. Yeah, and so there are a lot of things that cause that. Social media and stuff like that. But one way to fix it, it seems to me is, we get really good at getting connected. And so that social problems, but it really comes down to skills? Like how do I asked for forgiveness before friends? How do you offer forgiveness? How do we have a good conversation? How do we listen to each other? How do I break up with someone without crushing their heart? Like these are skills? And somehow, we stopped teaching, maybe we never thought.


Kate Bowler  07:41

That was maybe one of the more because this the podcast always ended up being about four themes over and over again, it was about like courage, and love. And one of them is interdependence. And every time I talk to somebody about interdependence, we get a certain kind of male that is, like, that’s like, it breaks our hearts, because it’s people saying, I understand the precarity of life, my life is falling apart, my life has become very small. And I don’t have somebody so when you say you’re not alone, I like really am alone. And I don’t know what to do next, so when, like, so we had like Vivek Murthy on who talks a lot about loneliness, and so on. He’s like, find your three people and I like from what you’re describing makes me think wow, like, so few people have their three people or know what they would need to do to find them.


David Brooks  08:34

Wanted or even people you may not even see a lot like we’d see each other every few months. But yeah, I feel like I really know you. I feel like we like we have it. And that interconnection is a beautiful word that’s been applied to this limerence when two people are intertwined, there’s a beautiful passage that again, in Douglas Hofstadter was a cognitive scientists who wrote a book called Imus Strange Loop and he was when he was a young academic. He was on a sabbatical with his wife in Italy, when their kid was four, and she died of a stroke, but like that, and he was grieving her. And he kept her photo on the mantle. And one day, he looked at the photo with special attention. And he said that he wrote this, I’m going to paraphrase. And I looked into her eyes, and I looked straight through her eyes, and I thought of our hopes and dreams for our children. And I realized they were not separate hopes. They were single and identical hopes that had interconnected us more deeply than I ever thought human beings can be interconnected. And I realized that some piece of her was not dead, but had lived on very determinately in my brain. And so he describes as a cognitive sciences, the loops that go between us, and some of the loops are, you know, intellectual, but when we’re talking, we’re not aware of it, but we’re synchronizing our breathing. We’re synchronizing our hand gestures, the speed with which we speech, we’re synchronizing our vocabulary levels if we’re talking to somebody, yeah, who doesn’t have a different has a different vocabulary will, will synchronize. And so human beings just need to do this. Recognition is the first human quest like baby comes out looking from face to face. And so when that’s taken away as a baby or as an adult, it’s just, it’s not only a sense of invisibility, but it’s just a sense of, sort of deep social pain. And when you feel nobody’s looking at you paying attention, you’ll experience it as an injustice because it is, and then you lash out. And you get you get angry. We get a lot of anger in the world.


Kate Bowler  10:39

Yes, reminds me of that word. I’m never good at the German compound. When they like the Germans have a word with us. I heard it in an interview that the theologian Miroslav wolf was doing with his mentor. It’s your home yeah. Yes, exactly. And he’d been in a prisoner of war camp and was trying to reconstitute his sense of self after this youth had been destroyed by his and alongside of his country and his sense of identity. And we talked about his wife, he used this beautiful word about like, it’s not just seen, but he says, well, I’m not sure. If like when he was such an old man, when he said it. He was so cute, he was like, well, I’m not loved because I am so handsome. Pauses see, as kills griglia eyebrows and stuff he’s like, but when she looks at me, I am beheld.


David Brooks  11:41

Yeah, I have this section. But you’ve been rehearsing, you know, my wife and, I describe what really was a motivating moment for me to do the book. Because I was sitting on my dining room table. And I was reading some boring book, which is what I do, and an walks in the door front door, and she stands there in the doorway. And it’s the summer afternoon and the sun is coming in behind her and she doesn’t even notice me sitting there. But her eyes rest upon an orchid we have an a table by the front door. And she’s just thinking about something. And I have this look, I looked at her and this was like three years ago now. And I think, wow, I knew her. I really know her I know her through and through. And it wasn’t like the personality traits are wasn’t the biographical was just like the ebb and flow for being harmonies or music and the fierceness sometimes that comes out with their insecurities or that transcendent smile. And it was just such a pleasant feeling it was almost as if I wasn’t seeing her I was I was seeing out from her. And you mentioned this word for a moment, which broke mine was the only English word that I could think of that describes how I was looking at her, was beholden. I wasn’t inspecting her, I wasn’t observing her, I was just be holding her. And it felt so great and so it’s really great when somebody gets you when somebody sees you, but it’s also really great. When you see somebody else, it just was such a delicious moment. And I thought, I want to write about how you get this again. And I would go around the first year or two of ordering the book. And just ask people tell me about the time you were seeing. And they were not always extraordinary. It was like everyday things like a woman who operates a homeless shelter, and she comes home, and she’s exhausted early COVID. And her husband just sits next to her and says, Here are the six household tasks I’m gonna do for the next six hours. And that was it, but she said he knew exactly what I needed. At that moment. And a guy told me about his daughter was in second grade, she’s struggling. And the teacher says to her, you’re really good before you at thinking before you speak. And it took what she thought was her awkwardness and it turned into a positive and the teacher saw something her she didn’t even seen her so and so he just raised it that turned around her whole year. When she when he told me that’s where I was reminded my 11th grade teacher, Mrs. Do snap. English teacher, I had said something smart aleck Egan’s class, which is what I did. And she says, David you’re trying to get by and glibness stop it in front of a whole class. And I’m like, on the one hand, I’m humiliated, because. On the other hand, I’m like, wow, she really, really knows me.


Kate Bowler  14:30

That’s so funny, this true even when someone points out, I mean, it takes someone who really knows you to point out when you’re stopping short of your own capabilities.


David Brooks  14:39

That’s another those skills they don’t teach, which is critiquing of care. Let’s give somebody a critique, but from a position of unconditional regard. And that that really is that’s just I mean, these are skills. They’re not like innate and. You’ve either got to see them modeled or you got to like, how do you do that?


Kate Bowler  15:09

We’ll be right back.


Kate Bowler  15:11

You have categories for how to know people. You talk about illuminators and diminishers, I want to hear about it.


David Brooks  15:20

So sometimes it there you just meet somebody who they just pay attention to you and they get you and they’re curious about you. They ask you the extra set of questions to really know. And they make you feel lit up. And the number one reason we don’t see each other is ego. We’re not interested, the number two is insecurity we’ve got so much noise going up on head, we can’t really pay attention. And then we’re self centered, somewhat socialist ecologist told me about a guy who was on one side of the river and there’s a woman on the other side of the river and she calls out to him, how do I get to the other side of the river? And he says, you are on the other side of the river. He can’t get in her head you’d say like, and so these are the natural sins that we commit every day of just being self centered and selfish and not really being curious about what’s going on the other person.


Kate Bowler  19:16

Kelly Corrigan said something really helpful the other day to me about how she clicks into that mode. If she’s wants to maybe not ego, what else do you say you were saying egos? Yes, and self centeredness. She in especially if you’re feeling busy, and maybe you’re toggling between roles, like I’m a we’re in work mode, and I’m at home and I’m actually still thinking about this other thing. And you know, here you are, and what am I doing? And she just asked herself, who am I serving right now? Oh, that’s good, I thought that was kind of helpful, because then if I’m sort of whipped up about something else, but I’m actually at dinner, and the answer could be like, the people sitting next to me.


David Brooks  19:56

And also like, the person in front of you is interesting on some subject. Everybody’s interested in some subject, they really, and you can have a fantastic conversation with somebody with anybody, if you approach it like, and I try to walk people through the steps like, what kind of attention to I cast? How do we just hang out when we’re just getting to know each other? What kind of questions how do I listen, then what do I want to know about you? And I’ve, I’ve learned, you can just have great conversations with anybody. And you’re happy by yourself.


Kate Bowler  20:27

I think I do it too, when I might be a bit weird, but I do it when I’m kind of angry at somebody. Like, not that we do specific, but if I, is there somebody in my life that I am, like, really frustrated by then I or I have to do want to, I want to two things. One, is I try really hard to figure out a story about them that I don’t know, so that I can kind of go around the version of the story that I already have, especially to if they’re being frustrating and pedantic about something, then I’m like, Well, okay, like you need to find a thing. And then I can, and then I can like it, and then you can kind of get like, then I find I can be like playful and relaxed again. The other thing I do is I try to find, and it has always felt counterintuitive, but it’s always worked, I always try to find a thing about myself, that I can open up a little bit that maybe I could need something. And it could be something really small like, I really like I want so like a certain set of people was having a difficult time with that. I like to gummy bears. I’ve gotten gummy bears for 20 years. So I might need to watch like what I decide, but like to be vulnerable enough to have a need that they can fill. I have found that it creates reciprocity, that at the moment, honestly, I didn’t want, but I knew that if I could keep finding a thing about them. And maybe they could find the thing about me that it could kind of keep things moving a little bit.


David Brooks  21:52

Yeah, I was thinking about this distinction between illuminators and diminishes and diminishes that people would never ask you a question. They just like stereotype you. And I was thinking well, can you an illuminator convert into Minister, can you turn them in and hadn’t really thought about I think what you’ve just described as a way to do that it’s much more generous than I would be like dismissive. But I think there is a way you can get somebody in the rest of it some people are just not question askers. Like, I’ll leave a party and I’ll think that whole time, nobody asked me a question, and they’re perfectly pleasant people.


Kate Bowler  22:28

But you every time I look over at a party, you are also the one asking questions. So next time, I’ll like, attach a sign to your back, or my basket is famous man a question for.


David Brooks  22:38

Like I said, I was at a bar in DC Long, long ago, and I was having a drink alone, which other people would see as sad, but I see his research. And it’s happened to me many times, especially like in New York, or DC when the tables are all packed in. And there’s a guy on a date clearly. And he’s bloviating, he has an extra one question 25 minutes, and you just want to take your forecast rather than it was that correct question. But you know, people are insecure, they’re trying to impress


Kate Bowler  23:10

Yeah, I love the fact that you’re very good at telling embarrassing stories about yourself, it is one of the, it is very endearing. And that is also a nice way to be like how do you want to create intimacy with people, tell them something kind of really embarrassing about yourself, that doesn’t turn out cute, or like and then in the end, and all the people rejoice? But you describe the kind of journey you’ve been on from being sort of less emotionally available, that kind of a cracking open period. Have you had people in your life that have been specially beautiful models of how to like, get in and foster that kind of intimacy?


David Brooks  23:50

You know, we writers, we work out our stuff, and one of my favorite phrases is, what writers do is they tell other beggars where they found bread. And so, yeah, I think there was a certain point where I just realized being emotionally closed off was bad for my relationships, bad for my personal happiness, and bad if you protect yourself too much from the world, and then you can’t be affected by all the joy and holiness the world has to offer. And so I felt the need to really like, explore motion really started so I did what any university of chicago graduate would do is I called neuroscientists, and so bad emotion. I wrote a book about emotion. But it kind of worked. I think it did, and then life happens, you know, parenting, bad things happen. I’ve had some professional humiliations and then go went through a divorce. And that was like an emotionally searing phase. So that was about 10 years ago. 2013. And, and I was intensely lonely. And I realized I had a lot of work friends, like people I could had lunch with the top politics, but didn’t have weekend for him. And if it was up to me to call somebody in a crisis, who would have call? And so that was a period of pretty intense loneliness, which manifested sort of as a burning in the stomach.


Kate Bowler  25:18

Oh, really?


David Brooks  25:19

Yeah, but.


Kate Bowler  25:20

Obviously seal heart […]


David Brooks  25:25

It’s in my stomach that’s like hotdogs. And so but what I learned was that when you’re in the valley like that, you can’t pull yourself out, somebody has to do it. And so I got a lucky break, I got invited to this couple’s home in DC. And I was accepting all invitations in those days. And that’s really great. When I’m free the next seven nights, I’m good. And so they had a kid in the DC public schools, and that their son had a friend named James whose mom had some health issues and tradition, and couldn’t always finishing school, James could stay with us. And so but then James had a friend that could add a friend. So by the time I’m invited over there, there are 15 mattresses on the basement floor. And they’re about 40 kids around the table. And so they were there in between the ages and those days between maybe 16 and 20 yourself 15 and 20. And so I walk in, there’s this kid who greets me in the doorway, and I’ve reached out shake his hand on David he said, why mad, but we’re not allowed to shake hands here, we just hug here. And I’m like, not them hugging his guy on the face of the earth but what was out there come to mind as someone who helped me because they’re a great skill was emotional. Openness, they beamed love to you. And they demanded that you beam back. And so Mr. how to be a little more open. And, and so I think that evolved. And so I was willing to be a little tried to be a little braver.


Kate Bowler  27:03

It’s funny to the release. I’ve heard a lot from people when they they’re like in the valley moment, that one of the factors that that pulled them up was, it seems counterintuitive because you think, oh, this is a time in which I need to receive what actually was giving which strike that’s a strange alchemy.


David Brooks  27:24

Yeah, but it that definitely works.


Kate Bowler  27:26

Why does it work?


David Brooks  27:29

Because I, we don’t love each other. We love each other when we see ourselves doing lovely things, or love ourselves when we see ourselves you have, there’s the saying I feel like myself first before I can love others. I think that’s backwards, that we have to see ourselves. And then what feels better than generative care to somebody? And so and I guess, to the extent that I was we were doing things for each other it felt like I was the mature grown up buying these kids endless bikes and stuff like that, but but they really we were in it together, I was in a blow moment they were like they were all going through their challenges, and I think it was because it was low moments, you just have to be there, there’s an absolute need to reach out there. You could mold Melkote Paul Tillich that he is applying that moments of suffering, interrupt your life and remind you you’re not the person who thought you were they carved through the floor of what you thought was the basement of your soul and reveal a cavity below and then they carved your floor and reveal cap below. And so in those moments, you’re aware of depths of yourself and you realize that only emotional and spiritual food will fill those deaths. And so you’re open and I used to have back in my valley days these deep spiritual experiences now that I’m happy for them, but I don’t I don’t know if I’d make the trade epic I will make the trade rather be joyful


Kate Bowler  28:54

We will the end of this podcast is an altar call that was a free opportunity [..]


David Brooks  28:59

Just make me suffer and then I’ll.


Kate Bowler  29:01

Know we’re gonna sing it to each other sighs.


Kate Bowler  29:15

We’ll be right back.


Kate Bowler  31:08

Your wife Anne is really good at what we’re describing. And is like really lovely in the way that she like she kind of expects every person in front of her to be poetry like that’s how she treats them, she imagines beauty. And then I think that gets reflected back to her.


David Brooks  31:40

That the phrase everyone uses about her is incandescent. So there’s a light there. And I think what I’ve learned from her is that the we think the most important part of getting to know a person is conversation. And that is a super like to be a good conversationalist is super essential. But before you get to that, you have to be really good at gazing at the person you have to bring the right kind of attention. If I bring a cold, objective attention to you, you’ll feel cold and objective. And but if I bring a warm and loving attention you will do. And so the story I tell is I was in Waco, Texas, and I’m meeting this woman named Laura Dorsey who was a teacher, the strict disciplinarian I’m having breakfast with her at a diner in Waco. And she presented herself to me as a strict disciplinarian. She’s like, I love my students enough to discipline them. And I was like, and then this mutual friend of ours walks into the diner named Jimmy Terrell and Jimmy’s a pastor, wonderful guy, Teddy bearish guy about 60 something. And he liked the homeless wouldn’t come to his church. So I built a church under the highway overpass called church under the bridge where the homeless where he is at homeless shelter. He really is a beautiful, beautiful human being. So he goes up to her, us and he goes up and grabs Mrs. Dorsey by the shoulders and shakes her way harder than his chicken 93 year old and says Mrs. Dorsey, Mr. Dorsey, you’re the best, you’re the best. I love you I love and this strict disciplinarian turns into a nine year old girl with just bright eyes and, and so the moral of the story is, pay attention people more like Jimmy and less like me. But then the one point is, here’s a more valuable personality. That I think the deeper point, and I’m gonna say this for people who have faith and people who don’t. So Jimmy is a pastor. And so Jimmy’s, when he sees somebody, I hope he sees someone made in the image of God. And when he looks at them, he’s looking a little into the face of God. He’s looking for somebody with an immortal soul of infinite, your dignity. He’s looking at somebody so important that Jesus was willing to die for them. And I you can believe a Christian Jew, Muslim atheists. But having that kind of respect for a person. And conveying that kind of respect with your eye is an absolute prerequisite for getting to know somebody. Because like when we meet a stranger, they’re asking, am I value to you? Yeah. Am I a priority here? Yeah, that’s right. And those questions are answered with the eyes, not with the mouth. And so I think when and she just carries that out there. So with her eyes in a nanosecond,


Kate Bowler  34:25

I’m an important person, exactly. You write really beautifully. About a friend you lost, that you have loved forever and ever and ever, and felt despair around an inability to connect with him in moments that you wouldn’t mind telling me a bit about?


David Brooks  34:44

Sure, so here I am writing a book on how to know a person and my oldest friend in the world. Peter marks will be known since we’re 11. He’s the whole that whole friendship was based on play. We looked at age 11 or age 57. We just played the basket Ball was we were eating we would play with the food there was always just play, we just play it. And he was a beautiful marriage wonderful kids successful surgeon, hourly, a seemingly Freightliner and he would set a great life luckiest guy. And at age 57, depression just, it had some. And we noticed it immediately, like we were gonna play basketball with him and suddenly the light was out. And so I supposed to be good at knowing how to connect with people. But I was unfamiliar with how to deal with a friend who’s in severe depression. And so I did the mistakes. And so one of the mistakes was, you have a great life. And so I learned later like, if you’re telling someone they should be enjoying what they’re not probably enjoying, you’re just like showing you don’t get it doesn’t it makes them feel worse. Because however great life I should be enjoying that I said, you know, you used to go to Vietnam, and you will do these cataract surgeries, you found them tremendous rewarding. Why don’t you go do that. And I later learned giving people advice on how to get out of depression. Again, this is another sign you don’t get. And so the only thing I found I could do was just be present, and just show up constantly. And I’m not I’m sticking around. And then maybe the only useful thing I did was give him a video from another friend of mine who had suffered from depression and and Mike Gerson. And Mike had very bravely done a National Cathedral sermon on this. And he described his own depression. And he described he described depression as a malfunction in the machine we use to perceive reality. And, and that Pete resonated with that, that I’m missperceiving reality. And I’ve got these obsessive compulsive voices in my head, and are lying to me and you’re of no value, now. I don’t miss you if you’re gone. And but I think as especially in the beginning of the three years, he suffered from that depression. I didn’t know enough about depression to know what he was doing. I did not know that if you’re been lucky enough not to suffer from depression. You cannot understand it by extrapolating from your moments of sadness, it’s different. And I did not know what to say. And we make our living with words. And we’re just supposed to be able to help us solve problems and words were useless. And so it was a just a slow education, what, how show up. And it wasn’t it that story does not have a happy ending. He took his life in April of 2022. After fighting courageously and bravely against this beast for three years, but, you know, we, part of the process of getting to know someone or getting know people is not only knowing them at their high moments, but sitting with them in moments of suffering. And being present, just showing that you’re there. And it may not help, and his wife’s love and this is their boys love for him poured forth in this time. But and he had great experts helping him, but the piece was just bigger than all of us. And we went to dinner three days before he took his life, and now you’re trying to reach him out in just, it’s just hard. And apparently on the ride home was heart wrenching was it was like you guys can talk to each other I can. So you get that sense that the isolation, he was feeling. But it was, as I say, it was a very hard lesson in seeing someone you know, the mind, there’s a John Milton phrase the mind can make Heaven and Hell or hell of heaven. And the mind has its own place. And, you know, he was just experiencing brutal pain in ways that didn’t have any obvious corollaries to the world that I’ve seen. And I guess one lesson is that when I’m talking to you, or I’m talking to Pete when he was depressed, I’m not looking at it, as I’m looking at your subjectivity, how you’re experiencing this moment? And it could be radically different, and I really want to know, you know, I’ve got to not know your out your objective realities, your life, but how are you experiencing your experience? I would say one of the things anybody who might be feeling sad and I this is a message I try to get across to people who don’t know this sort of fact. But I believe at the end and the final day, Pete was he was under the impression he was feeling his family a favor. By saying they’ll be rid of the pain and not having seen the wreckage. That’s why if you ever think that’s wrong, that is completely, so stick around.


Kate Bowler  40:17

My dad, my dad was very depressed when I was growing up. And the feeling of being close to the the thing, the light, the light that is doing is it’s hard to stay upright, right next to the wall.


David Brooks  40:28

Yeah, what do you mean the light that was.


Kate Bowler  40:30

Like in there, he was incredibly depressed, it only got worse, it only got worse and only hours. And he just retracts into this shallow version. And then just to stay up really close to somebody who’s suffering and their personality is erased. And there is a depression is such an such a vicious thing. That description of that as perception altering, and like the things to do things we have control of when we’re trying to know and love the people in our life. So what you’re describing is such an intense example of the limits of our ability to control whether other people can know and know how much we love them and want to see them and.


David Brooks  41:15

There were no words that can penetrate what he was going through, and or they would penetrate it but like there were two of him. There was the one who was suffering, and then the one who is observing the suffering. And so you could talk to the one who was observing, but and he understood it intellectually, but just didn’t feel it. And, you know, I think that’s one of my big takeaways there’s a theory called constructionism that we all construct wrong. And that we don’t see with our eyes we see with our whole life.


Kate Bowler  41:47

And we see with our whole life.


David Brooks  41:49

And so you know, if we’re, if you’re an introvert, you see a different room than an extrovert. If you’re a security specialist, you see a different room than a home decorator. But if you’re have been wounded. Then you see a threatening experience where somebody else doesn’t see a threatening and so you’ve always got that’s why, after the power of attention, that sort of conversation is so important, because you can’t we have this thing I can take your perspective. You can’t you have to ask, if you say, what are you seeing here? What are you experiencing here? And you have to walk through that conversation. And you know what it looks like opening our eyes. You just open your eyes, you see the world. It feels like the light comes in? But that’s not how it works. Your brain is projecting out models based on past experience.


Kate Bowler  42:40

Yeah, I really didn’t like that study that you were describing. That was like, how much do you think that you see the world correctly? Do you think in your like, you think 80% it was like 20% of your perception is reality? It’s so funny. because that’s, it’s one of the only places in which, because I’m a really sensitive person, being able to try to guess other people’s emotions has been really key to me trying to figure out, you know, what to know and be in the world.


David Brooks  43:05

So I have this thing that empathy is three separate skills. So the first skill is mirroring. And that’s really like catching emotion. And then second is mentalizing. I have a theory based on some past experience, what you’re feeling. And then the third is caring. So being like, like, because a con man is empathetic. They know what other people feel. And they just don’t care.


Kate Bowler  43:27

Yeah, because this kind of accumulation that you’re describing, like not just information, not just curiosity for its own sake, but wisdom is something I do love about you. And for me and our ridiculous friendship. One of the things I’ve liked about it, is when I’m feeling not my shiniest self, like you’re fun to be shiny with, because we can argue and talk about books and whatever. But I remember one morning, I was just feeling kind of a little bit terrible. And I texted you and and were like, can you just come over and basically glorified pajamas. And then 20 minutes later, I’m at your house. Great coffee and then overall, I was very good texts from Dale. And then we all just mostly told embarrassing stories. And I have to say, that was one of my loveliest mornings. So thank you for being the friend who’s willing to see people in their shiniest, and then they’re less shiny, it really.


David Brooks  44:31

I used to think, like, I felt I was being a burden on my friends. But now when somebody asked me when they’re going through something, I’m so honored. And so the lesson was, you’re never been aware, or almost never you shouldn’t. If they’re your friend, it shouldn’t ever be a burden.


Kate Bowler  44:46

Now, David like who you are, but I also love who you are. Thanks for being a great friend and for writing a beautiful piece that all of us can follow.


David Brooks  44:55

Thank you. I’ve enjoyed our friendship. I’ve enjoyed your podcast and now I get to be on your podcast. […]


Kate Bowler  45:07

One of David’s greatest gifts, it really I’ve like seen him do this a million times. He knows how to measure the zeitgeist of our time. It’s just really incredible what he’s able to absorb. But the truth is, when I listened to him now, I think, wow, what he’s seeing and hearing is concerning the invisibility that we feel the social breakdown, loneliness and disconnection that if we’re not feeling it ourselves, we’re probably noticing the ramifications of it. So perhaps we can all learn how to better connect, to be illuminators by asking better questions, maybe learning how to apologize or how to forgive, to really see and love the person right in front of us. You know, to practice being human together. So I thought that might be a lovely thing to bless that desire to see people. The one right there. All right, here we go. Bless it, are we with eyes to see the person right in front of us. It’s not solely their faults, or some future version of themselves, or the way they always do that thing that drives you nuts. But as poetry incarnate, as treasures, to be be held. Blessed are you who noticed the light in their eyes, or when the light dims you who screwed up close to their suffering, though you might not have the right words to say, You who bear witness to their life in its entirety, the joys, the sorrows, the unfinished pneus of it all. You who cherish every story, even if you’ve heard it before, listening without judgment, and without haste. May your careful attention be met with others who see you as the same bright light and wonder that you are as you practice seeing and being seen? May you remember that you too, are a blessing to all who have the great privilege to know you?


Kate Bowler  47:39

Well, my loves if you liked this conversation, would you just make my day and leave us a review? Thank you so much for people who have taken the time to head over to Apple podcasts and Spotify. It just takes a couple seconds. But it really does make a huge difference. And honestly, it’s been a source of great encouragement to me and my team. So thank you. And while you’re there, make sure you’re subscribed. Ao you don’t miss an episode. Like next week, I’m going to talk to writer she’s constantly in the New York Times to She’s so good. Her name is Margaret wrinkle, and we’re going to talk about the beauty of being really alive to the world. She’s really great and funny, and kind of just slays me, so you’re gonna love her. Oh, hey, my team also put together a gorgeous Advent guide. And it is totally free and available now. So if you head on over to Kate bowler.com/advent Then you can find a really stunning it’s like kind of a giant free ebook, really, that can take you through the preparing for Christmas feeling and season with just a little bit more intentionality. You’re gonna love it. This is also part of the episode where I get to thank everyone who makes this work. You know, not just possible but good. Like our generous partners. We have amazing partners at the Lilly Endowment and the Duke Endowment, and they support our great desire to tell stories about faith and life. And I am so grateful to them for it. Thank you also to my academic home Duke Divinity School and our new podcast network Lemonada. Where they make this is their quote, make life suck less. And of course, a huge shout out to my amazing team who really make everything not just work, but they make it meaningful. Jessica Ricci, Harriet Putman, Keith Weston, Gwen Higginbotham, Brenda Thompson, Kristen Bowser, Jeb, Burt and Catherine Smith. Oh my gosh, I love them. And my whole team loves hearing from you. So leave us a voicemail and we might even be able to use it on the air. Call us at 919-322-8731 okay, talk to you next week luvvies and in the meantime, come find be online at Casey bowler. This is Everything Happens with me Kate Bowler.

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