The Menard Family Distinguished Speaker Series kicked off with Arthur Brooks
Arthur Brooks participated in a discussion over Zoom on Nov. 3 to talk to the NDSU community about improving humanity and creating economic opportunities.
The event was hosted by The Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth as part of the Menard Family Distinguished Speaker Series. John Bitzan, Director of the Challey Institute, conducted a Q&A session with Brooks.
Brooks, best-selling author and social scientist, started the conversation by thanking the Menard family and speaking on the importance of the Challey Institute. “This is an example of ways in the United States we really distinguish ourselves as a culture,” he said. “It is the collaboration of patriotic people that want their communities to be better, and their country to be better.”
Brooks spoke on many pressing issues.
Dignity of work
Bitzan started the conversation with asking Brooks to speak on the importance of dignity and respect.
“The problem is not the inequality of income…the problem is the inequality of opportunity and even behind that is the inequality of dignity,” Brooks said.
In terms of how dignity is achieved, Brooks spoke about respect and needs. “Dignity is the worthy of respect,” he said. “Neediness is a physiological matter. It is what lies behind a sense of ‘I’m worthy of respect.’”
Feeling needed within a community, university and the economy gives Brooks a sense of being respected, he explained. “People who don’t feel needed fall behind.”
Simply put, Brooks said to make others feel needed is to actually need him. There has been a separation of two classes of citizens. “People who work and feel needed, and people who don’t work and feel like liabilities,” he said. “No one should feel like a liability. None of us would treat our children as liabilities.”
Brooks, also a professor of public leadership at Harvard Kennedy School, mentioned what he tells his students. “Forget about money, power, pleasure and fame,” he said. “You need faith, family, friendship and work where you earn your success.”
Competition of ideas
Bitzan moved the conversation to competition of ideas, focused on educational standards. He asked Brooks his opinion on how to appreciate competition.
In terms of what universities do when it comes to competition, Brooks said they propagate ideas which creates opportunities and benefits. “Ideas change the world,” he said.
Brooks spoke about three goals universities must strive for.
“We need the courage for leaders to say, ‘we do not cancel anyone. We do not shut down the competition of ideas,’” he said. It’s important for those in leadership positions to show they are not afraid of ideas. “Bring on the ideas.”
Brook talked about creating a culture of resilience and how students grow when transitioning to college. “They [students] need to get stronger when they leave home, not weaker,” he said. Brooks advised universities should ensure a safe environment to students in a “peace through strength” style.
On the idea of creating a culture of trust, Brooks said “we need to trust each other to not hurt each other.”
Helping those in poverty
Bitzan questioned Brooks on how he has focused his career on lifting people out of poverty. He said it began at a small age.
Brooks talked about seeing a picture of a boy when he eight-years old living in East Africa who had flies on him in a National Geographic magazine. “I would think back, what happened to the millions of victims of poverty,” he said.
Brooks capitalized on the progression of world poverty. “80% of starvation level poverty has been eradicated since I saw the picture of that boy,” he said.
There are five forces that change the world, according to Brooks. These forces are globalization, free trade, property rights, the rule of law and free enterprise.
“I am American and care about people around the world,” he said. “If you love your brothers and sisters around the margins of society, I need you to be a warrior for the free enterprise system around the world, purely for humanitarian reasons.”
Social media during a pandemic
Bitzan acknowledged society has been using social media more intensely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Are you concerned that the increase of social media use may lead to more unhappiness in the future and more political polarization?” Bitzan asked Brooks, to which he responded, “I am very concerned.”
Social media acts as a source for human contact, to which society has lacked throughout the course of the pandemic. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that functions as a hormone to the brain, said Brooks. “You get it through human touch…when you don’t have it, you crave it.”
Brooks offered insight on why people are turning to social media. He said it acts as “joke food of brain nutrition” and it tries to “remedy your hunger.”
“Nothing should ever be a substitute for actual human relationships,” Brooks said. “It’s a really dangerous business that we need to take care of ourselves and our kids by modifying our behavior.”
Bitzan and Brooks welcomed questions from the audience after the discussion. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum attended the event and asked Brooks about pillars of happiness and advice for navigating friendships.
Brooks questioned the audience in his answer, “how many of you love somebody with whom you disagree politically?” Love comes first and relationships are because of “shared loved, not because of different politics,” he said.
Brooks boldly said, “keep your priorities straight, folks.”
Brooks expressed the belief of people being placed in our lives as an opportunity to learn and grow from.
Brooks is the author of 11 books, including national best-selling “Love your Enemies,” “The Conservative Heart,” and “Road to Freedom.”
He is also a faculty fellow at Harvard Business School and has served as President of the American Enterprise Institute at the Washington D.C. base.
The event was an hour long and over 400 people attended.
The next guest speaker in the Menard Family Distinguished Speaker Series is Edward Glaeser and will take place at 3 p.m. on Dec. 3. For more information, check out https://www.ndsu.edu/challeyinstitute/events/distinguished_speakers/.