2) Why do we want space to develop our individual talents, lifestyles, and identities?
So we started the Quest for Me and did all that self-finding and passion-seeking for 16+ years. Part of the reason we did so instead of, say, learning how to do something that would be of use to somebody, is that for that entire time we had no long-term responsibilities. It’s not like I was a blacksmith’s son in a small village who was expected to learn the trade so somebody could shoe the horses when Dad got too old. I knew I was going to go to college out of state, and then live wherever I darn well pleased, doing whatever I wanted. The Quest for Me wasn’t just a quest to find myself. It was also a quest to find myself for my own sake.
Now, my college administrators didn’t see it that way—they kept hammering home that great responsibility came with that art history degree Mr. Prodigy was getting. But the responsibility wasn’t linked to a particular place; it was a responsibility to Humanity, and hey, I can help Humanity in D.C. too, can’t I? (For more on the failures of the ridiculous Help Humanity/Think Global concept, read this post from a few weeks ago.)
I’ve worked with impoverished rural communities in Colorado that have lost most of their young people—the parents invested years of toil into preparing the kids for college, in the vain hope that the kids would bring back skills that would help the community. Problem: the kids didn’t see it that way. They paid attention to the way they’d been raised, and “followed their passions” to Manhattan and never came back. And now their home towns are literally dying out (or becoming havens for illegal immigrants that the parents hire in desperation to keep the farms going).
Yet just like with my last question, there’s a “funny thing” factor. The funny thing here is that it’s precisely a connection with something outside myself, something that demands a certain degree of responsibility or conformity, that might have made my Quest for Me a success. As Brooks pointed out beautifully in his response to the silly “I Love Jesus but Hate Religion” YouTube video, you can’t find answers inside yourself when you don’t know the answers. You’re better off finding a tradition to join. And as T.S. Eliot showed in last week’s post, while this is a lot harder than seeking yourself (understanding a tradition actually requires hard work), it is what actually allows you to find yourself, to know what is truly unique about yourself, and to do good in the world.
But this leads to one more question.
3) What's the significance of the fact that people who live alone are more liekly to choosen to visit friends and join social groups?
The one potential problem with Brooks’ suggestion that you choose a tradition is, well, the idea that you can choose a tradition. And here again the movies my generation grew up with provide an illustration. In the Colin Firth and Amanda Bynes chick flick What a Girl Wants, a girl is told (against her instincts) not to look for meaning by finding out more about her dad, her family, her responsibilities, her traditions…but to ignore all that and look inside. Problem: in contrast to the moral message of the movie, all those things are a part of her whether she likes it or not. She didn’t choose a tradition; it chose her. When you’re deciding on your beliefs, you don’t start with a blank slate—you either accept what’s been handed down to you, or you rebel against it and choose something else (again, Eliot made this point in the post last week).
Naturally, as Klinenberg points out in Brooks’ column, someone who lives alone will be more likely to visit friends. Someone who is starving is more likely to go find food, too. The fact that he’s looking for it isn’t evidence that he’s well fed.
Keep reading on the next page