David Brooks has been promoting his latest book ‘The Road To Character’, a subject I’ve been interested in for many years. He’s coined the phrase the ‘Big Me’ to describe our current society. In the nineties in Northern California I began to observe a societal change marked by a sense of personal importance and entitlement and coined my own phrase, ‘Me First’ people, those who rush to beat you to a parking place, become irritable when they have to wait in any line for any reason, will speed up in order to prevent you from merging into their lane etc. You get the idea.
When I first moved to San Francisco in the late sixties (I missed the high point of the Haight-Ashbury days) the city was laid back and a little provincial. Coit Tower was the tallest building on the skyline, some ladies still wore gloves to go shopping at City of Paris department store, the cable car cost a quarter to ride, North Beach was really Italian and the Mission was really Hispanic. I know a lot of us ‘oldies’ mourn the Herb Cain San Francisco days and the newcommers call us ‘haters’ when we complain about the way the city has changed. We can’t help it. The city was nicer back then and if you were poor or middle class you could still afford to live there.
San Francisco is home to a number of internet companies today. The internet is a magnificent engine of change and I’m okay with change since it’s inevitable. It does not, however, change peoples’ deeper character. Only spirituality and/or self-reflection can alter bad or develop good character. Some human qualities should remain constant despite change, things like courtesy, compassion, humility and ethical behavior. David Brooks and I may not agree about politics but we agree about what he calls the ‘Eulogy’ things, the wake we leave behind us when we’re gone.