Review: The Social Animal and Public Policy, a masterclass with David Brooks

David Brooks has a CV that reads like a dream career for most journalists. 

Currently working for The New York Times, he’s previously worked for publications including The Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic Monthly, has interviewed presidents and has sat in on countless political pow wows.

Brooks has also written a book, The Social Animal: A Story of How Success Happens, and it was lessons from that he talked about at a masterclass today, held at the headquarters of London charity Kids Company.

I don’t know what I went into the masterclass expecting, but I left feeling pretty awed by Brooks, and also with lots of ideas about how we as humans should operate to ensure success, not just in our lives but for society as a whole.

There were three core things Brooks chose to address first: that most of our processes are unconscious, that emotions are at the centre of our thinking and add value to things, and that we are deeply social creatures.

Brooks gave plenty of examples from his own life as a journalist, as well as from various studies, to talk about how humans develop and how the social self is at the core of what we do, even if we don’t realise.

Governments, unfortunately, aren’t ruled by emotions, or by things like love, and they also aren’t ruled by the desire to give up all sense of self and work for the greater good, like Frances Perkins, who was the first female member of the United States cabinet – back in the government of Roosevelt in the 1930s and 1940s. I’d not heard of Perkins before this masterclass, but her story sounds fascinating, and she sounds like the kind of leader we need more of.

Brooks left me with a lot to think about, not least how in the face of poverty and hunger we can all do our bit to try and change policy so that a greater number of people are helped.

And, if you have the chance to see Brooks speak, I recommend you do so – he’s an engaging speaker, with fascinating stories and a great mind.

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