I recently came across the concept of climbing The Second Mountain, via Optimize Philosophers Notes (check out my last post to know how to get access), about David Brooks book of the same title.
The concept is super simple, and yet profound. Haven’t read the book, but from what I have understood from the book summary, the achievers/actualizers among us, start by climbing the first mountain of success, happiness etc, which is what the society expects us to do, only to find the peak unsatisfying and wanting. That is when the journey to the second mountain starts. The peak here is about transcending or other-focused- bringing us joy, impact etc. The way to get to the second mountain is by fiercely committing ourselves- to family, a vocation, values/ philosophy or community.
This set me thinking. I have blogged extensively in the past about the four major goals of life (see for e.g. here, here and here). However, I believe I had been conflating the second mountain other-centered goals with first mountain self-centered goals and more focused or obsessed with the first mountain goals in general.
To recap, the life goals as delineated by me earlier were:
- Happiness (maximizing pleasure and ‘self’ focus)
- Morality/Integrity (living morally and ‘group’/community focus)
- Meaning (living authentically and ‘other’/ family focus)
- Success (making an impact and ‘task’/ work focus)
I would now like to conceptualize them slightly differently. The first mountain self directed goals, as per me, are :
- Happiness (pleasing self focus)
- Success (task/job focus)
- Integrity (authenticity /conscience focus )
- Meaning (fulfillment focus)
I want to contrast this with second mountain other directed goals, which as per me are:
- Joy (enjoying with others focus)
- Impact (making a difference/ calling focus)
- Morality (ethics/ altruism focus)
- Transcendence (beyond self focus)
I would like to relate the second mountain goals to following four types of commitments, as identified by Brooks, respectively:
- Joy – committing to family
- Impact– committing to vocation
- Morality – committing to community
- Transcendence – committing to values/ philosophy
And to be frank,I have been inspired by the ancient Hindu framework of four purusharthas or four major goals of life, which I believe is one sort of instantiation of the second mountain goals:
- Kaam (the pleasure of giving pleasure) – Joyful union
- Artha (the meaningful economic activity ) – on ground Impact
- Dharma (the true moral nature) – Ethical duty
- Moksha (liberation from trappings)- Ultimate Transcendence
Important to note the difference between happiness and joy; and also job/career vs calling. Similarly while someone may do good acts out of a desire to keep the conscience clean and retain a sense of integrity, better from morality standpoint is to be governed by what is good by itself and not how its making you feel. Bahgvad Gita sermon by Krishna elaborates on this point only – Arjun feeling bad on the battlefield, in anticipation of killing his family and friends, is exhorted to do what is right, and good for the community as a whole, and not what will make him feel right. Similarly , one has to look beyond finding meaning in life by living authentically, to coming to terms with absurdity of life and finding the existential courage to create a transcendent purpose. A buddha is self-enlightened; a boddhisatva keeps taking births out of compassion and is perhaps more liberated in my view.
I really would like to see empirical research done on 2 mountains concept and also on how the four major goals of life are related, but distinct. Also taking a cue from Hinduism, how happiness < success < integrity < meaning and Joy < Impact < Morality < Transcendence. I am intuitively reminded of Maslow’s hierarchy, with self transcendence at top, but not in the mood to expand it further. What is important is to move form theory to practice! So what goal are you committing to today?