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Mountain climbing.

A thought-provoking book on climbing the second mountain in life.

Oct 11, 2020

Words: Andrea Kinsmith

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The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life by David Brooks

Most people come out of school, get a job, start a career and begin a family thinking that that is just about all there is to life. Separating from parents, performing daily tasks, cultivating talents, establishing an identity and making a mark on the world. Along the way, they hope to collect a nice house and nice things, have a nice family and nice friends, go on nice holidays, enjoy nice food and live a generally nice life. This is what author David Brooks has termed ‘climbing the first mountain’. It’s all very nice, and fulfils most expectations, but ultimately it can leave people feeling empty, like something is missing.

Until recently, David was living the first mountain life too.

After being brought down from his first mountain lifestyle to scrabble around in the valley for several years, David discovered that there is another way — a second mountain. He proposes that climbing this second mountain leads to a more fulfilling life, oseconne that cultivates a moral compass and a deep sense of joy, both on a personal and cultural level. It is this personal and cultural link that makes David’s book stand out from other ‘self-help’ guides.

In all communities, throughout time, the pendulum of cultural beliefs and practices swings wildly from one extreme to the other as each generation try to counteract the cultural flaws of their age. Presently, as David identifies in his book, we are living in a hyper-individualistic age. Our individualistic culture has arisen in response to the previous generation’s excessive group conformity.

I think David treats the analysis of the two cultures quite fairly, pointing out the benefits and drawbacks of both. He shows that a culture that values interdependence has the strength to build nations, communities and families, as well as withstand great hardships. This is a culture where everyone is important, but when the importance of interdependence is forgotten, group conformity becomes prominent and the value of the individual is extinguished.

In an individualistic culture, where everyone is ‘free to be themselves’, the bonds of prejudice and oppression have less of a hold and an individual’s worth is increased. But as cultural beliefs and practice move away from a lifestyle of interdependence to focus more on the freedoms of the individual, we find a weakened society full of people busy with themselves. People who, although they live and work beside each other, are not able to work effectively together to build families, communities or countries.

In a more interdependent society, people are given a sense of direction and a place to begin.

David Brooks does a brilliant job of describing just how weighty this burden of ‘freedom’ actually is.

Emerging adults would begin their lives by taking on the jobs of their parents, as well as their identity, values, faith and place in their community. But in the age of ‘I’m free to be myself’, emerging adults are expected to find their own career path, form their own identity, find their own social tribe, their own values, beliefs and life partners, and their own role in family and community.

David Brooks does a brilliant job of describing just how weighty this burden of ‘freedom’ actually is.
This is where I was surprised to see a connection with Gippslandia’s current theme — migration.

In an ‘I’m free to be myself’ culture, no-one can tell young people how to live or even what to live for. This forces them to go on a journey, a migration of sorts, from a highly structured, supervised school life to an unstructured, unsupervised life of freedom. They’re migrating from themselves to find themselves — to figure out who they actually are and what is important to them.

Which brings us back to David’s overall theme: what exactly is important and how should we live? David proposes that in this highly individualistic age we need to commit our whole life to serving others: our families, our communities and the causes that we find value in. A life that is committed to caring for others is a life that has direction, moral value, a reason to live every day, and produces a deeply satisfying inner joy.

David spends about three-quarters of his book talking about both his journey and what the second mountain life looks like. At times he dedicates a lot of space to describing his own journey, making it part-memoir and part-reference guide, causing the book can lose a little focus. But he gives us a lot to think about. There are loads of great stories and examples of people living a more interdependent, committed lifestyle and the value and joy that it brings to them and their communities.

In The Second Mountain, David tries to guide us back to a culture of interdependence, where leaning in to help each other is the norm, not the exception.

If you’re looking for any of these thought-provoking books, please visit the Reader’s Emporium, Traralgon,

to Gippslandia.

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