On Sept. 27, so many people came to see David Brooks at the Morrison Center that 900 heard him only in adjacent rooms. Hundreds more were turned away. That is unprecedented in Boise State University’s Distinguished Lecture series. Why had they come?
It was not for his insights into the election. Brooks has been devastating Trump all summer. Here, he only repeated here that he finds little inspiration from Clinton.
Was it the public TV and radio crowd coming to see a favorite personality? Famous people come to Boise all the time. This bunch gave Brooks a standing ovation before he opened his mouth.
The New York Times columnist has, it seems, become an unlikely hero for many of us living between the two coasts. Maybe coastal wiseacres aren’t impressed, but we feel smarter for the deep scholarship he marshals to explain how we behave. We enjoy his lacerating of the rich and the proud. We find in him a calm voice in a distressing world. We rise and cheer for something quiet — a persistent and rare moral voice.
Since 2012, Brooks has written less about politics and more about community, love, humility and similar spiritual matters. His latest book, “The Road to Character,” compares the “resume virtues” we need for the first half of our lives to the “eulogy virtues” which should characterize the second. He writes, for example, of the need for simplicity — not exactly surefire material, you’d have to agree.
Instead of “selfies.” we should choose “self-reticence, self-erasure and self-suspicion,” he writes. Classically, pride is the great flaw, humility the great virtue. As one reviewer put it, if you think you are special, this is not your book.
In Boise, Brooks repeated another theme: “We are coming apart as a society.” We have fewer friendships, more loneliness, a greater need for one another and yet a lesser sense of community. The opposite of love is not hate but fear, and fear is depriving us of intimacy and vulnerability. Reversing this begins with each of us.
Of vulnerability, he writes, “Each of us is redeemed by our weakness and uses that problem to grow a beautiful strength.”
Is writing like that any way to become popular?
At least in Boise, indeed it is.