Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Liar in the Mirror

"reality" - from
I am not much fond of David Brooks' political and social theories, but I do sometimes find his columns in the New York Times interesting. Recently he wrote "Life Reports II," wisdom gathered from older readers.

Among those ideas for living a successful life, he found this tidbit of advice.
Beware rumination. There were many long, detailed essays by people who are experts at self-examination. They could finely calibrate each passing emotion. But these people often did not lead the happiest or most fulfilling lives. It’s not only that they were driven to introspection by bad events. Through self-obsession, they seemed to reinforce the very emotions, thoughts and habits they were trying to escape.

Many of the most impressive people, on the other hand, were strategic self-deceivers. When something bad was done to them, they forgot it, forgave it or were grateful for it. When it comes to self-narratives, honesty may not be the best policy. 
I suppose that boils down to "Don't over-think things," but to me, it is 180-degrees opposite of the approach any writer should take. It also reminded me of some of the feedback I received after publishing my memoir -- the gist of which was "You're too hard on yourself."

There's a danger of negativity, of course, in rumination and in self-criticism, but I also think the worst thing one can do is to lie to oneself. 

Reality is. And no one will ever have a chance to grow, to be a better person without recognizing personal faults.

And reality also requires a rational and sophisticated person understand that every human being is flawed. To rely on an aphorism from the novelist Peter DeVries, "Human nature is pretty shabby stuff, as you may know from introspection."

Many who are reading the Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs are remarking on Jobs' desire to have his life revealed, fully recognizing his flaws. Jobs was a genius, and he often wasn't a pleasant person, but in light of the biography, he was apparently honest. What part that honesty, that understanding of his own flaws, played in his material success, I don't know.

That's not really relevant, though, to all that I took away from Brooks' essay. Granted there are many out there who do not ruminate, who live for self, for pleasure, and live in the moment -- and consider themselves to be living a happy, fulfilling life. 

But to me, those who choose to beware rumination must be willing to skim the surface of life. For any person of intelligence, such a choice would doubtless be a conscious one, one recognizing that to do so may isolate the person from the deeper, more mystical parts of life.


Anonymous said...

Gary, here's what Cyril Connolly says in THE UNQUIET GRAVE:

There are but two ways to be a good writer (and no other kind is worth the being): one way is, like Homer, Shakespeare or Goethe, to accept life completely, the other (Pascal's, Proust's...Baudelaire's), is to refuse ever to lose sight of its horror.


Gary Presley said...

Two sides of the same coin, perhaps, but if you ask me to choose, I choose "acceptance."