David Brooks on the “Crooked Timber Mentality”

Posted on: June 26th, 2014 by bobmorris

Brooks, DavidHere is a brief excerpt from an article by David Brooks for The New York Times. He shares his thoughts about a blog post by Lydia Netzer. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

Photo Credit: Josh Haner/The New York Times

* * *

People with a crooked timber mentality tend to see life as full of ironies. Intellectual life is ironic because really smart people often do the dumbest things precisely because they are carried away by their own brilliance. Politics is ironic because powerful people make themselves vulnerable because they think they can achieve more than they can. Marriage is ironic because you are trying to build a pure relationship out of people who are ramshackle and messy. There’s an awesome incongruity between the purity you glimpse in the love and the fact that he leaves used tissues around the house and it drives you crazy.

People with a crooked timber mentality try to find comedy in the mixture of high and low. There’s something fervent in Netzer’s belief in marital loyalty: “You and your spouse are a team of two. It is you against the world. No one else is allowed on the team, and no one else will ever understand the team’s rules.” Yet the piece is written with a wry appreciation of human foibles. If you have to complain about your husband’s latest outrage to somebody’s mother, she writes, complain to his mother, not to yours. “His mother will forgive him. Yours never will.”

People with a crooked timber mentality try to adopt an attitude of bemused affection. A person with this attitude finds the annoying endearing and the silly adorable. Such a person tries to remember that we each seem more virtuous from our own vantage point than from anybody else’s.

People with a crooked timber mentality are anti-perfectionist. When two people are working together there are bound to be different views, and sometimes you can’t find a solution so you have to settle for an arrangement. You have to design structures that have a lot of give, for when people screw up. You have to satisfice, which is Herbert Simon’s term for any option that is not optimal but happens to work well enough.

Great and small enterprises often have two births: first in purity, then in maturity. The idealism of the Declaration of Independence gave way to the cold-eyed balances of the Constitution. Love starts in passion and ends in car pools.

The beauty of the first birth comes from the lofty hopes, but the beauty of the second birth comes when people begin to love frailty. (Have you noticed that people from ugly places love their cities more tenaciously than people from beautiful cities?)

The mature people one meets often have this crooked timber view, having learned from experience the intransigence of imperfection and how to make a friend of every stupid stumble. As Thornton Wilder once put it, “In love’s service only wounded soldiers can serve.”

* * *

Here is a direct link to the complete article.

David Brooks became a New York Times Op-Ed columnist in September 2003. He has been a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, a contributing editor at Newsweek and the Atlantic Monthly, and he is currently a commentator on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer. He is the author of Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There and On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense, both published by Simon & Schuster. His most recent book is The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, published by Random House in March 2011.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

bobmorris