This week I read The Social Animal by David Brooks.
The Social Animal looks to tell us how we become who we are – how we develop wisdom and character. The source of who we become lurks below the surface and is inherently linked to our early relationships. Despite Brook’s compulsive research, this is not a science book – it’s ultimately about emotion and love.
…People are still blind to the way unconscious affections and aversions shape daily life. We still have admissions committees that judge people by IQ measures and not by practical literacy. We still have academic fields that often treat human beings as rational utility-maximizing individuals. Modern society has created a giant apparatus for the cultivation of the hard skills, while failing to develop the moral and emotional faculties down below. Children are coached on how to jump through a thousand scholastic hoops. Yet by far the most important decisions they will make are about whom to marry and whom to befriend, what to love and what to despise, and how to control impulses. On these matters they are amost entirely on their own. We are good at talking about material incentives, but bad about talking about emotions and intuitions. We are good about teaching technical skills, but when it comes to the most important things, like character, we have almost nothing to say.
The Social Animal had me thinking hard about how we train doctors. We need to look beyond the reductive reasoning that makes up the way we think and about patients and their diseases. Medical education should think more about emergent systems, or the way different elements come together to make something greater than the sum of its parts. If the concept excites you, I suspect you’ll enjoy this book.
Weaved throughout his well-referenced mashup of science, sociology and neurology, The Social Animal tells the story of a fictional couple, Erica and Harold. This entertaining fictional narrative illustrates the intuitive roots of human behavior and supports Brook’s assertion that we’re not rational, but social animals ruled more by the unconscious.
It’s a substantial book at over 400 pages but it moves along. I found Brook’s message to be heavy and at times and had to stop at times to process his logic. I think however this is a function of the subject matter rather than his writing. The Social Animal is a commitment that will force you to think beyond what you’ve been forced to understand regarding human nature.
The link to The Social Animal is an Amazon Affiliate link.