Even very famous people can do self-destructive things in an attempt to seem just a little cooler.


And then just like that, you are trying to keep the death of your marriage out of D.C.’s public records.

Nominally David is writing about disgraced NBC news anchor Brian Williams, whose serial fabrications first received widespread media attention days before. But of course he has not discussed this with Williams; the self-destructive hunger for the regard of others he describes is his own. How it gnaws on his guts. He can never be thinkfluential enough to sate it. It is like a tapeworm that eats self-esteem, instead of chewed-up plain croissants! Day and night it feeds. A man can only take so much before he becomes desperate—becomes weak, becomes desperate and weak and lonesome in the undies—before, in a low moment, he—


No. Dave cannot say it. He needs forgiveness first. Can’t you ... can’t you just forgive him, baby? Can’t you just come home? Pre-emptively?

Martin Luther King Jr. argued that forgiveness isn’t an act; it’s an attitude. We are all sinners. We expect sin, empathize with sin and are slow to think ourselves superior. The forgiving person is strong enough to display anger and resentment toward the person who has wronged her, but she is also strong enough to give away that anger and resentment.

In this view, the forgiving person makes the first move, even before the offender has asked. She resists the natural urge for vengeance. Instead, she creates a welcoming context in which the offender can confess.


“She.” This is not David’s most subtle work, here.

Do we exile the offender or heal the relationship? Would you rather become the sort of person who excludes, or one who offers tough but healing love?


Can I borrow a feeling?

Mar. 3, 2015: “Leaving and Cleaving

Shit is getting pretty grim for Dave. Dave has hit a new low. This column (which puzzled Adam Weinstein, understandably) is Dave at his most naked and confessional, and it is ... it is harrowing.


He is lost. Lost and alone. He misses her so goddamn much. Her, and the way things used to be. Sometimes he thinks maybe she, too, longs for what they had, wants to find their way back, together, hand-in-hand. They even bought a new house together! Other times, she will not even answer his text messages. Where has the love gone?


Such is the confused nature of our modern, technologized relationships, Dave tells himself. Even people in near physical proximity can be separated by cosmic digital distance. We don’t even “like” each other’s Face-Books! It’s like I can’t even fluence your thinks anymore at all.

If you are like me you know a lot of relationships in which people haven’t managed this sort of transition well. Communication that was once honest and life-enhancing has become perverted — after a transition — by resentment, neediness or narcissism.


Dave. No. What did you do. What did you do, Dave?

We all know men and women who stalk ex-lovers online; people who bombard a friend with emails even though that friendship has evidently cooled; mentors who resent their former protégés when their emails are no longer instantly returned; people who post faux glam pictures on Instagram so they can “win the breakup” against their ex.


Dave. Dave! What did you do.

The person left in the vapor trail is hurt and probably craves contact. It’s amazing how much pain there is when what was once intimate conversation turns into unnaturally casual banter, emotional distance or just a void.


Oh no. Dave. You didn’t. Please say you didn’t.

The person being left has to grant the leaver the dignity of her own mind, has to respect her ability to make her own choices about how to live and whom to be close to (except in the most highly unusual circumstances). The person being left has to suppress vindictive flashes of resentment and be motivated by a steady wish for the other person’s ultimate good. Without accepting the idea that she deserved to be left, the person being left has to act in a way worthy of her best nature, to continue the sacrificial love that the leaver may not deserve and may never learn about.

That means not calling when you are not wanted. Not pleading for more intimacy or doing the other embarrassing things that wine, late nights and instant communications make possible.


David Brooks sent his ex a dong shot. And then used his New York Times column to tell the world about it. Our man perches upon the edge of The Void, and hears its howl. Does it call his name? Or does he only want it to?

We could have picked up the phone. We could have stopped by with a chicken lasagna. We could have invited him to address our ideas conference for just under six figures. We could have listened. But we did not.


Apr. 3, 2015: “On Conquering Fear

Like David Brooks, the ancient Israelites were haunted by fear. Bedeviled and bound by it. It enfolded their lives, not unlike David Brooks is enfolded by the filthy shower curtain he wears around the house like a toga while he sobs and eats ice-cream sandwiches and leaves anonymous nasty comments on Paul Krugman’s blog.


Their fear trapped them between their merciless oppressors on one side, and the unknown perils of terrible, terrible freedom on the other. David Brooks is likewise pinned in place, beset to the left and to the right: he fears the culture, its dissolution and laxity, its memes and its dread lord Kanye, and so he cleaves to the staid life of the thinkfluential nag—but oh, how he fears the loneliness and irrelevance this life has brought him.

If only he could defeat the fear. If only he could conquer it. But how? He interrogates the Torah for an answer.

Fortunately, one such method is embedded in the story that Jews read tonight as part of the Passover Seder. It’s an attractive technique because it involves kissing, talking and singing your way through fear.


“Somebody, anybody, please handle my wiener. Please.”

Zornberg’s emphasis on the role women play brings out the hidden, unconscious layer of the Exodus story. But it also illustrates an important element in the struggle against fear. We’re always told to confront our fears. Take them head-on. But, in the sophisticated psychology of Exodus, fears are confronted obliquely and happily, through sexiness, storytelling and song.


“It recoils from my touch.”

Apr. 25, 2015: “Love and Merit

Where can Dave find a handhold for his self-esteem? His wife rebuffs him; the hot online singles reject his pick-up lines (“Is it cold where you are or are you just a person of low character?”); the culture’s eyes glaze over and it checks its Twitter mentions these days whenever he tries to explain the lost virtues of humility using his own work as an exemplar. He wallows in misery for the benefit of a posterity that will arrive too late to manipulate his crank.


Has he at least been a better father than those damn Gen-Xers?

[Today’s] children are bathed in love, but it is often directional love. Parents shower their kids with affection, but it is meritocratic affection. It is intermingled with the desire to help their children achieve worldly success. Very frequently it is manipulative. Parents unconsciously shape their smiles and frowns to steer their children toward behavior they think will lead to achievement. Parents glow with extra fervor when their child studies hard, practices hard, wins first place, gets into a prestigious college.

This sort of love is merit based. It is not simply: I love you. It is, I love you when you stay on my balance beam. I shower you with praise and care when you’re on my beam.

The wolf of conditional love is lurking in these homes. The parents don’t perceive this; they feel they love their children in all circumstances. But the children often perceive things differently.


Joshua, your father doesn’t even care anymore that you went to Indiana University instead of Yale. Point finger-guns at Kenyan children all you want. Just stop sending your father to voicemail. Your father is so lonely, and your voicemail always cuts him off before he can finish explaining why it’s all John Lennon’s fault.

Meanwhile, children who are uncertain of their parents’ love develop a voracious hunger for it. This conditional love is like an acid that dissolves children’s internal criteria to make their own decisions about their own colleges, majors and careers. At key decision-points, they unconsciously imagine how their parents will react. They guide their lives by these imagined reactions and respond with hair-trigger sensitivity to any possibility of coldness or distancing.

These children tell their parents those things that will elicit praise and hide the parts of their lives that won’t.


“Is this why you roll your eyes and close your Skype tab when I ask you what the millennials look for in an aging thinkfluencer?”

May 5, 2015: “What Is Your Purpose?

David Brooks surveys the human condition—his human condition—and finds it in utter desolation. A vast, frigid, windswept waste. He has nothing and is nothing and leaves nothing behind.

Every reflective person sooner or later faces certain questions: What is the purpose of my life? How do I find a moral compass so I can tell right from wrong? What should I do day by day to feel fulfillment and deep joy?


At every step of his long journey he planted seeds of blinkered, glib, useless moral instruction, and the barren ice rejected them. Where can he go now? Why should he go anywhere? In the great emptiness there are no places to go—only places to die, to make by dying The Place Where A Lonely Man Fell, which the uncaring winds will scour away to featureless anonymity in their time.

There was a coherent moral ecology you could either go along with or rebel against.

All of that went away over the past generation or two.

We drift in the emptiness. All is arbitrary. All folly. Our wieners the punchlines of cruel jokes told by dead gods in languages we forsook.

The old days when gray-haired sages had all the answers about the ultimate issues of life are over.


“Don’t look to me for answers anymore. The nothing I know I take to my bottomless grave, which is nowhere.”

As a result, many feel lost or overwhelmed. They feel a hunger to live meaningfully, but they don’t know the right questions to ask, the right vocabulary to use, the right place to look or even if there are ultimate answers at all.


Of what use is our vile “language”? We flap our face-holes and flatter ourselves that we communicate meaning, and yet the dick webs go undusted. Before the horror of The Void even a New York Times column might just as well be the hopeless, inarticulate wail of a loon.

Do you think you have found the purpose to your life, professional or otherwise? If so, how did you find it? Was there a person, experience or book or sermon that decisively helped you get there?

If you have answers to these questions, go the website for my book, “The Road to Character,” click on First Steps and send in your response.


The man literally created a form, on his website, for strangers to acknowledge his damn existence. For Redditors, gamergaters, and Deadspin commenters to tell him how to live. This is the measure of our failure to hear what Dave has been trying to tell us.

If you know David Brooks, please pay him a visit. Do not recoil at the sight of his shower curtain. Sit with him and squeeze his shoulder and tell him it is going to be okay. I don’t think he is doing so hot.


All the rest of you should go to his book’s website, click on First Steps, and sing him back to sunlight.


Photo illustration by Jim Cooke, source via Getty