Modern Toughness

Interesting op-ed from David Brooks on what it means to be tough. I remember when my eighth grade teacher put sofas in our classroom to make our "learning space" seem more welcoming and relaxed, and reminded us frequently that we could come to her to talk out our problems. She meant the kinds of things you might say to a psychiatrist; I just wanted pointers on my algebra homework.

I'm not a supporter of "trigger warnings" and safe spaces," and I find the recent campus campaigns of politically correct students self-indulgent and nonsensical. Still, I think Brooks is right to point out that there's a difference between callousness and toughness, and that people we admire for being resilient are not hard; they are ardent. He says:

In short, emotional fragility is not only caused by overprotective parenting. It’s also caused by anything that makes it harder for people to find their telos. It’s caused by the culture of modern psychology, which sometimes tries to talk about psychological traits in isolation from moral purposes. It’s caused by the ethos of the modern university, which in the name of “critical thinking” encourages students to be detached and corrosively skeptical. It’s caused by the status code of modern meritocracy, which encourages people to pursue success symbols that they don’t actually desire.

We are all fragile when we don’t know what our purpose is, when we haven’t thrown ourselves with abandon into a social role, when we haven’t committed ourselves to certain people, when we feel like a swimmer in an ocean with no edge.

If you really want people to be tough, make them idealistic for some cause, make them tender for some other person, make them committed to some worldview that puts today’s temporary pain in the context of a larger hope.