Photo taken of Aoraki at sunrise on 3rd June 2019
Recently, I have heard about the idea that life is divided into two halves. David Brooks uses the analogy of the first mountain and the second mountain, where the ego rules your first half, and the collective good guides your later years. Richard Rohr has been talking about it for a while in a spiritual sense – there’s a “kind of falling” that happens to us all as we are living in an ordered way: a crisis, a disease, a loss, a death. Only during this “disorder” can we see where our values lie, and both authors observe a common change to the propelling forces that drive people’s actions. They see us move from valuing success, stability, egotism and power, to creating joy, contentment and peace for others, only to find it for ourselves as well. The drive for our actions in the second half of life shifts from ‘me’ to ‘we’.
I’m not denying the importance of age and experience. Some life lessons only come from grief and failure and hardship. I don’t want to pretend that I understand everything about what it’s like to grow older. There are some things only time can teach me.
Despite Dunning and Kruger yelling at me to shut my trap, I still wonder – what about the other, younger voices? Just because we haven’t had as much experience as older generations does not mean we’re wrong. It probably makes us blind to certain things, but not to everything. We are not all obsessed with ourselves. Not by a long shot.
Both you and I have met people who are trying to bring that second life into their first half. They know the risk they run, waiting until their forties, fifties or sixties to start considering things like joy, commitment, active contribution, community, vulnerability and self-sacrificing love. They are developing the emotional and intuitive intelligence to navigate their lives healthily in preparation for whatever comes. They started in their twenties, and I want to celebrate this.
They’re increasingly not satisfied with the 9-5 grind, already, so they’re going out on their own and hustling to find work that hold meaning for them. They work for causes and ideas bigger than they ever could be , living what they believe, often putting purpose before pay. They’re exploring world-changing ideas through art and poetry and conversation and books. They’re giving their skills in massive voluntary capacities. They’re writing books and creating podcasts because they know they’ve got something worthy to say. They’re fascinated by learning and growing, but disillusioned by the cynicism and self-glorification of academia. They refuse to leave their health to chance, and commit to seeking out those who know more than they do to help them sift through the noise upstairs – spiritual directors, counsellors, therapists, mentors. They’re meditators and readers and yogis. They are confronting their own mental health questions, and finding ways to talk about it instead of hiding the pain. They know when they push themselves to the limit physically, it becomes a mental game instead, and so they choose to spend more and more time outside of their comfort zone, knowing the cost is not as high as the gain. They communicate vulnerably. They live in open community. They’ve opened up social enterprises and are committed to making a positive difference in young people’s lives. They’ve started new ways of meeting together because they know how important it is to keep other young people engaged in relevant spirituality. They’re building their own tiny houses, committing to Flygskam, and considering not to have children because of the impact it will have on the environment. They choose fewer, more vulnerable friendships over many shallow connections.
Brooks writes in the New York Times that second mountain people “see that life is a qualitative endeavor, not a quantitative one. They ask us to see others at their full depths, and not just as a stereotype, and to have the courage to lead with vulnerability. These second-mountain people are leading us into a new culture. Culture change happens when a small group of people find a better way to live and the rest of us copy them. These second-mountain people have found it.”
I don’t think that the second mountain comes because you turn a certain age or experience something profound. Your senses can be sharpened to find new meaning as you grow and change, yes. I’ve also seen young people, people younger than me, choose the pursue the second mountain because of an intuition, a mixture of nature, nurture, learned wisdom, values, and beliefs that has nothing to do with age.
I love hearing other young people bring their experience to the table. I love that, no matter what age we are, we can learn from one another.