Brooks Family Lecture: Bringing America Together

On Jan. 29, Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, delivered the Brooks Family Lecture for the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences. His talk was titled “Bringing America Together.” Brooks has served as the president of the think tank since January 1, 2009. Before joining AEI, Dr. Brooks was the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, where he taught economics and social entrepreneurship. Prior to his work in academia and public policy, he spent 12 years as a classical musician in the United States and Spain. Additionally, Brooks is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and the bestselling author of 11 books on topics including the role of government, fairness, economic opportunity, happiness, and the morality of free enterprise.   

His unique, non-linear background has afforded Brooks the opportunity to draw on history, social psychology, behavioral economics and humanity to draw a bigger picture of unity in America. In Brook’s lecture and subsequent student dinner, he discussed the divisions of culture and generational differences that create disdain and contempt.

Brooks spoke about the mark of moral courage, evident when we stand up to those on our side for the sake of the other. Civility and tolerance are not enough – we must do better for each other. He said that America today is afflicted with contempt, or the conviction of the worthlessness of another human being. Treating each other with disagreeable contempt, he said, pulls the nation apart. Highlighting that “everyone can be an agent in alleviating hate and increasing political civility,” Brooks encouraged the crowd to “answer contempt with warm-heartedness.” He noted that the Dalai Lama conveyed this message to him, adding that “love is raw strength.”

Love and warm-heartedness, however, do not equate to agreeableness. Brooks told the group to “hold your opinions and hold them well,” referring to the importance of remaining well informed and engaged in public debate. In order to do so, Brooks ascribed the crowd “homework,” laughing as he joked about his return to academia.

Think about someone firing up this country, getting rich every day. Make a list of all of those you agree with who profit off turning American against American. Turn them off.

Find contempt and bring it to you. Go where people don’t have the truth – or your truth. Communicating with them, you may or may not change their minds, but you will definitely change your own heart. Get a wider circle of friends. Apply the 5 to 1 rule to social media, where for every five people you agree with, you maintain one friendship or follow that you disagree with.

Express gratitude, for gratitude is “the contempt killer.” One cannot express contempt when faced with sincerity and thanks.

Brooks aimed to encourage the group to disagree better, forge a new model of aspirational leadership and unite the country. He helped to show us how this can be an opportunity for the nation.

Submitted by Alexa Green ’19, Rockefeller Center Student Program Assistant for Public Programs

The views and opinions expressed and any materials presented during a public program are the speaker’s own and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Rockefeller Center or constitute an endorsement by the Center.