November 4, 2023 Editor

The Essential Skills for Being Human

David Brooks

By David Brooks

Opinion Columnist

image above: Liana Finck



WN: Outstanding, lovely article.


I have learned something profound along the way. Being openhearted is a prerequisite for being a full, kind and wise human being. But it is not enough. People need social skills. The real process of, say, building a friendship or creating a community involves performing a series of small, concrete actions well: being curious about other people; disagreeing without poisoning relationships; revealing vulnerability at an appropriate pace; being a good listener; knowing how to ask for and offer forgiveness; knowing how to host a gathering where everyone feels embraced; knowing how to see things from another’s point of view.

So over the past four years I’ve been working on a book called “How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen.” I wanted it to be a practical book — so that I would learn these skills myself, and also, I hope, teach people how to understand others, how to make them feel respected, valued and understood.

I wanted to learn these skills for utilitarian reasons. If I’m going to work with someone, I don’t just want to see his superficial technical abilities. I want to understand him more deeply — to know whether he is calm in a crisis, comfortable with uncertainty or generous to colleagues.

I wanted to learn these skills for moral reasons. If I can shine positive attention on others, I can help them to blossom. If I see potential in others, they may come to see potential in themselves. True understanding is one of the most generous gifts any of us can give to another.

Finally, I wanted to learn these skills for reasons of national survival. We evolved to live with small bands of people like ourselves. Now we live in wonderfully diverse societies, but our social skills are inadequate for the divisions that exist. We live in a brutalizing time.

Please click on: The Essential Skills for Being Human

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.