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Brooks Says Love is All That Really Matters

Arthur BrooksIn the Gospel of Matthew, Christ says to “love your enemies.” It’s a startling, simple and yet radical challenge. It’s also the title of the latest book by New York Times best-selling author Arthur Brooks. This message, Brooks told a packed Hixson-Lied Auditorium Thursday night, is much needed in our divisive era and must be applied particularly to our political, academic and religious discourse.

Having adhered to both ends of the political spectrum, Brooks understands each side. He leaned liberal when he worked as a classical musician in the U.S. and Spain but adopted the conservative point of view after earning a PhD in economics.

Brooks is a professor of practice of public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, the Arthur C. Patterson faculty fellow at the Harvard Business School, and the author of 11 books, most notably The Conservative Heart and The Road to Freedom. He served as president of the American Enterprise Institute, a leading Washington, D.C., think tank, for 10 years; is a columnist for The Washington Post; and host of the podcast The Arthur Brooks Show, which appeals to both liberal and conservative listeners.

“An Evening with Arthur Brooks” was sponsored by the Institute for Economic Inquiry, the Heider College of Business and the Business Ethics Alliance.

“I really want to talk about the most important thing in life; it’s in the title of the book, and to give you a hint, it’s not ‘enemies,’” Brooks said.

“We have a country that’s being torn apart by political division. We have a lot of polarization and disagreement in every single election. You can’t turn on the television without people screaming at each other. Families are being torn apart; people don’t even want to go home for Thanksgiving. Churches are being torn apart as well. What is the most important thing that we are forgetting?” he asked.

Brooks led the audience to the answer via a history lesson on the heroin problem the U.S. military faced during the Vietnam War. He said 20% of America’s forces were addicted to the drug while in Vietnam. Still, as insidious as heroin is, 95% of the addicted soldiers stopped using after returning home.

Why? Because they were once again reunited with those they loved.

How could this be? Because of oxytocin, Brooks explained, a neurotransmitter excreted from the brain when you look into the eyes of someone you love. For this reason, it is called “the love molecule.”

“Love solves problems,” Brooks said. “It’s all we really want.”

Brooks then examined the campus climate as it relates to love. He said studies have shown that romantic love is down by nearly 30% on college campuses compared to three decades ago. Conversely, loneliness, anxiety and depression are on the rise, and he related this to social media.

Just as eating junk food leaves you hungry, social media leaves you starved for true connection with another human being because there is no eye-to-eye contact, Brooks said. “You need to look someone in the eye to stimulate oxytocin. You don’t get oxytocin from Instagram. Why are we substituting a virtual simulacrum for real human contact?”

Further, the unrest many college campuses are experiencing is rooted in fear, “the ultimate negative emotion” and the opposite of love, Brooks continued. He said today’s young adults have grown up in protective bubbles and are risk-adverse.

Brooks challenged the audience to be “life entrepreneurs,” to view life as a startup, to take risks, to create explosive value with their lives. And how do you know if you are a life entrepreneur? Take a risk, lean into fear, have courage, he said: Declare your love to someone.

Brooks said Love Your Enemies was born out of a need to mitigate the rise of “motive attribution asymmetry” in society today. Motive attribution asymmetry is the predicament in which partisans see their own motives as good and true and the other side’s motives as evil. It’s a losing proposition.

It is difficult to recognize the validity of another point of view, Brooks said, but it is necessary, and it is the essence of moral courage.

“Moral courage is standing up to people with whom you agree on behalf of those with whom you disagree,” he said. “That’s really scary. That’s a hard thing to do. That’s how you lose friends. And I ask myself: Am I doing that enough? I set my course to doing that, and this book … was born.

“Nobody in history has ever been insulted into agreement. You want to persuade somebody, you can’t do it by saying, ‘You’re an idiot.’ The only way you can persuade is by saying, ‘I love you. Tell me more. Now I want to tell you what I think.’”

We are in a cycle of contempt, Brooks said. We break this cycle by retraining our brains. When faced with contempt, instead of lashing back and returning kind with kind, just stop. Don’t react. Let your will power catch up and choose love, because, Brooks reminded, “love is more important than the other stuff. That’s our superpower as Christian people, to answer hatred with love.”

Brooks ended the evening giving the audience homework. He instructed: “First, the next time there’s a political conversation, turn it to love. Second, in the next week, take a risk with your heart and declare your love to someone who needs to hear it. If you’re not a little afraid, it’s not entrepreneurial enough. Lastly, go out and look for contempt so you can return it with love.”

“It’s our apostolic mission,” Brooks said.

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