I don’t often find myself quoting David Brooks. When it comes to New York Times columnists, I find myself more in line with Paul Krugman and Frank Rich than with Mr. Brooks. But his column today resonated with me on a number of levels. First of all, I find it clear eyed and sensible. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I think he nicely articulates a truth about human enterprise of any sort: most of the time, it works better if you don’t go solo.
As Mr. Brooks puts it, “… even if you are at your best, your efforts will still be laced with failure. The truth is fragmentary and it’s impossible to capture all of it. There are competing goods that can never be fully reconciled. The world is more complicated than any human intelligence can comprehend.
“But every sensible person in public life also feels redeemed by others. You may write a mediocre column or make a mediocre speech or propose a mediocre piece of legislation, but others argue with you, correct you and introduce elements you never thought of. Each of these efforts may also be flawed, but together, if the system is working well, they move things gradually forward….
“As a result, every sensible person feels a sense of gratitude for this process. We all get to live lives better than we deserve because our individual shortcomings are transmuted into communal improvement. We find meaning — and can only find meaning — in the role we play in that larger social enterprise.
“So this is where civility comes from — from a sense of personal modesty and from the ensuing gratitude for the political process. Civility is the natural state for people who know how limited their own individual powers are and know, too, that they need the conversation. They are useless without the conversation.”
Certainly we find in our collaborative work every day that we are all less useful without the conversation.