The “new humanism” that David Brooks describes in a July NY Times op-ed piece resonates well with the kind of synthesis between the technical (or “technocratic” in his article) and the relational (social, emotional) that the National Equity Project has been working on with our education partners for many years.
When we raise our kids, we focus on the traits measured by grades and SAT scores. But when it comes to the most important things like character and how to build relationships, we often have nothing to say. Many of our public policies are proposed by experts who are comfortable only with correlations that can be measured, appropriated and quantified, and ignore everything else.
Yet while we are trapped within this amputated view of human nature, a richer and deeper view is coming back into view. It is being brought to us by researchers across an array of diverse fields: neuroscience, psychology, sociology, behavioral economics and so on.
This growing, dispersed body of research reminds us of a few key insights. First, the unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind, where many of the most impressive feats of thinking take place. Second, emotion is not opposed to reason; our emotions assign value to things and are the basis of reason. Finally, we are not individuals who form relationships. We are social animals, deeply interpenetrated with one another, who emerge out of relationships.
Brooks notes that when the relational is concerned, we often have “nothing to say.” What we offer is a shared vocabulary for talking about it (conversation is where work and change happens), and guidance and concrete strategies and tools for putting these kind of insights into practice. And of course, doing that through an “equity lens,” where the facts of social injustice that lead to unequal outcomes are addressed explicitly.