The 4 Commitments in Life: Living on the Second Mountain

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How committed are you to your neighbors? Your work? How can commitments see us through tough times?

In The Second Mountain, David Brooks endorses the relationalist worldview, arguing that it’s more satisfying that its counterpart (individualism). He outlines the four commitments in life that he believes are crucial to relationalism—your vocation, marriage, community, and belief system.

Read on to learn about the four commitments that constitute relationalist living.

The 4 Commitments in Life

Western culture is steeped in individualism, the worldview that encourages you to pursue individual happiness and prizes personal freedom as the highest societal good. But, according to cultural commentator David Brooks, this individualist worldview breeds selfishness and deprives your life of greater meaning. Consequently, he argues that you should embrace relationalism—the worldview that prioritizes selflessness and service to others—to lead a deeply fulfilling life.

Let’s take a look at the four commitments in life that exist within this worldview.

Commitment 1: Your Vocation

Since vocations are oriented around serving others, Brooks concludes that they’re a key part of the relationalist approach to life. While careers satisfy the superficial desires that individualism highlights, he claims that vocations satisfy the deeper desire to dedicate yourself to a righteous cause.

If vocations provide the fulfillment that Brooks suggests, then it’s crucial to find yours. To do so, Brooks claims you have to find a cause that you care about so deeply that it provides a constant source of energy. According to Brooks, this obsession will point you toward your vocation.

Brook provides several strategies for discovering your obsession and, ultimately, your vocation:

  • Say yes to as many opportunities as possible.
  • Surround yourself with people whom you admire.
  • Reflect on the issues that burden your conscience.

Commitment 2: Your Marriage

Brooks argues that only the relationalist approach to marriage satisfies our yearning for a deep connection with another person. Relationalist marriage requires us to forsake our independence, placing the needs of this unit over our individual needs. 

This form of marriage, Brooks argues, requires total commitment: You fight tirelessly for your spouse, and they fight tirelessly for you. In turn, although you sacrifice the independence that individualism celebrates, you experience the deepest intimacy possible with another person.

Brooks claims that, before committing to marry someone, you should spend time reflecting on your decision. In particular, he argues that you should evaluate your partner along psychological, emotional, and ethical lines before marrying them. Next, Brooks argues that you should carefully evaluate the nature of your feelings toward your partner. To do so, he distinguishes between three types of love: romantic love, friendship, and selfless charity. According to Brooks, all three forms of love are necessary to sustain a marriage. Finally, Brooks concludes that it’s crucial to marry someone whose character you admire.

Brooks argues that, if you do commit to marrying someone, you must grow in three areas to enjoy a thriving marriage: You must become more empathetic; you must learn to communicate more effectively; and you must practice recommitting to your spouse.

According to Brooks, recommitment is necessary during two crises that most marriages experience. First, when you have children. And, second, when you reach middle age, you’ll be tempted to blame your spouse for the general feeling of dissatisfaction and loneliness that many people experience.

Commitment 3: Your Community

According to Brooks, the prevailing individualism in Western culture is responsible for the erosion of community. In response, he argues that the relationalist approach to life requires committing to local communities.

Robust local communities can mitigate this loneliness. In such communities, Brooks claims that rich relationships exist between neighbors, who live selflessly and are devoted to caring for one another. In turn, healthy communities prevent lonely individuals from falling through society’s cracks.

Brooks offers various steps that we can take to foster such communities. First, he recommends creating an outlet for gathering the community together. Additionally, he claims you must be vulnerable at these events. Next, Brooks asserts you must convince your fellow community members to adopt a set of principles that ties the community together and sets the foundation for lasting progress. Finally, Brooks argues that to solidify the community that’s been formed so far, you need to implement new traditions that define the new community.

Commitment 4: Your Belief Systems

In addition to committing to a community, Brooks argues that the relationalist approach requires a commitment to ideas, intellectual and religious.

Embracing the Intellectual Life

The intellectual life, according to Brooks, involves the relentless pursuit of truth and moral development. Brooks suggests that we should commit to the intellectual life because it teaches us to pursue the highest desires—like truth, wisdom, and flourishing.

First, Brooks observes that the intellectual life requires exposure to the varying moral worldviews. Intellectual commitment fosters open-mindedness and the ability to evaluate these varying moral systems. Next, Brooks claims that intellectual commitment helps us perceive the world more objectively, which teaches us humility. Finally, Brooks asserts that the intellectual life teaches us intellectual courage, the capacity for seeking out what is true rather than merely what is popular.

Embracing the Religious Life

Historically, Brooks notes, religious commitment has been a source of internal peace amidst external hardship. Brooks claims that religious beliefs provide guidance for leading a morally upstanding life. Christian commitment in particular, Brooks argues, squashes believers’ pride through its emphasis on unearned grace.

Lastly, Brooks argues that religious faith teaches us the importance of long-term commitment, even when doubt infiltrates our minds.

The 4 Commitments in Life: Living on the Second Mountain

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of David Brooks's "The Second Mountain" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Second Mountain summary:

  • The negative consequences of the West's focus on individualism
  • Why you should embrace relationalism to lead a fulfilling life
  • The four commitments that constitute relationalist living

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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