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Intellect

BYU Forum: The lies of meritocracy

In Tuesday’s campus Forum, best-selling author and New York Times columnist David Brooks discussed how to lead a good moral life and taught students in the Marriott Center how they can become better members of the community.

Brooks began what he called his “steady and boring” career trajectory at the University of Chicago. While there he began his life in the meritocracy: trying to achieve success and build up an identity within the merit-based workforce.

Brooks said that a meritocracy brings value and achievement, but there are also many lies within a meritocracy.

“The emotion of the meritocracy is conditional love – you earn your way to be loved,” Brooks said. “The anthropology of the meritocracy is that you are not a soul to be saved, you are a set of skills to be maximized. The big lie at the head of the meritocracy is that people who have achieved more are worth more than other people. If you want to tear apart your society, that is a good lie to introduce.”

The society and culture of the meritocracy conditions members in such a way that morality comes second to economic sense. This makes members of society morally numb and paints the wrong things as desirable, like reputation, efficiency and success.

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Meritocracy leads to detachment from other people. The core problem, Brooks pointed out, is that a meritocracy allows people to go unseen and unknown.

“This is the democratic trait that we all have to get a little better at,” Brooks said. “Seeing each other deeply and being deeply seen. It’s a question of understanding each other.”

Brooks spoke of his study of a group of people who thrive at relationships and communication, who he called “weavers.”

“Weavers are geniuses at making you feel heard and understood, it’s what they do,” he said. “So I thought, ‘How do I do this?’”

Brooks outlined 4 things weavers do to enable themselves to know and be deeply known by the people they are surrounded by.

Weavers plant themselves down.

Weavers pick a spot within their community that they care about and root themselves there, making the best of their current surroundings. They know who they are and who they care about.

Weavers are daring social explorers.

Once weavers know where they are and who they are, they have the security to go abroad. They thrive on finding those who are completely unlike themselves and thrive on creating connections through communication.

Weavers are emotionally transparent.

Weavers create connection with those around them by throwing emotion at other people and showing them how to receive emotion and accept it.

Brooks spoke of a community he is part of that takes in those in need, creating a chosen family of support. After reaching out to shake one teenager’s hand, he was given a warm hug instead.

“The kids beam emotional transparency at you and they demand emotional transparency from it,” Brooks said. “They rewire you into a different sort of person. That makes you a much more open person.”

Weavers have learned how to use their suffering well.

Some people, in pain, lash out and transmit their pain upon others around them. Brooks taught that trials also break people open and allow them to live their life at a deeper level.

“You see deeper into yourself than you ever knew existed,” he said. “When you see into those depths, only spiritual and emotional food will fill those voids.”

Deeply seeing and knowing those around us is difficult, but it is happening all around us. Great teachers see deeper into students, impacting them in ways they otherwise couldn’t. Great spouses see deeply, allowing a partnership of love and support to thrive.

Brooks concluded by emphasizing the importance of togetherness in a community and the sense of unity that can come from it.

“That’s what a community is – a bunch of people looking after each other. A bunch of people seeing each other, and seeing each other deeply. Taking the time to really enter into relationships with each other and to depend upon one another. Democracy is about seeing one another, and that’s the glue that’s holding us together.”

Next Devotional: Mark L. Pace, Sunday School General President

Mark L. Pace, Sunday School General President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will deliver the next BYU Devotional on Tuesday, October 29, at 11:05 a.m. in the Marriott Center.

His remarks will be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org, KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM and BYUradio.

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