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Thursday, November 24, 2011

David Brooks, "The Life Reports": Fascinating

I strongly recommend David Brooks's New York Times op-ed "The Life Reports" (, where he shares the thoughts of persons over 70 who responded to his request for essays concerning their lives.

When reading the vignettes presented by Brooks, I found myself asking if I was different in any meaningful way from those who wrote to him. I, too, did physical labor on farms before beginning my professional life, but most in my generation can no longer move freely, assuming there will be a decent job wherever they settle.

Although Brooks admits that he has "probably overemphasized the pitfalls of their lives in this column," there is much here worth contemplating.

"The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival."



  1. Could not disagree with you more on Our Mister Brooks latest. From my column in the New York Times eXaminer :

    At the end of last month, Brooks asked older readers to report on their life lessons, which he said “would be useful to the young.” He promised to share some of these essays on his blog and in his column “around Thanksgiving.” So here we are. And here is the advice Brooks thought would be “useful” to cut and paste for the edification of the nation’s clueless youth:

    Cheating on your wife can lead to divorce. Also, cheating on your wife makes you feel ashamed. If you drink too much, you might cheat on your wife, which has the aforementioned downsides. When a loved one dies, you will feel really sad. When a child is hit by a car, God is more likely to mend the child’s injuries than are doctors. (We do not learn why God let the driver of that car hit the child. Perhaps that will be a life lesson for another day.) When you yourself get sick, it’s nice to have friends and be cheerful.

    With all due respect to the elderly writers, who were only doing as Brooks asked, it doesn’t seem these particular life lessons are much more “useful to the young” than are Brooks’ own writings. With the exception of the dubious claim about God’s superior medical expertise, I suspect most young people could intuit all of this advice without benefit of first-hand accounts.


  2. Dear Marie,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response and wonderful to hear from you again.

    I was not seeking profundity or earth shattering insights into the human condition when I read Brooks's opinion piece. Also, I agree: there are no important life lessons here, which can be used by young people to shape their futures.

    On the other hand, it was interesting for me to read the perceptions of a collection of persons -- perhaps not representative, but who took the time to write Brooks -- from the generation that raised and educated me. I have enduring respect and gratitude for those who fought in WWII and Korea, but who nevertheless succumbed to temptation and perhaps sense failure and frustration as they near the end of their lives.

    The benefit of their first-hand accounts? I'm hoping Brooks will proffer more optimistic accounts in a subsequent op-ed. Meanwhile, perhaps we are seeing that there is indeed nothing new under the sun.


  3. I disagree with Marie. Incredible project for us to engage in as society with significant potential benefits for young people. In fact, I would broaden it substantially from Mr. Brooks concept.

    See www.LifeReports.comm