The subtitle of this book is “The art of seeing others deeply and being deeply seen”.
In many ways, this book is the result of a personal journey by the author, who recognised that he was living his life in a kind of detached way, without vulnerable emotional connections with others and who worked hard to become an open-hearted, full, kind and wise human being.
He acknowledges the importance of relationships, community, friendship and social connection, but finds these concepts too abstract. The book provides an in depth account of how small, concrete social actions can lead to developing these things. It covers topics like how to disagree without poisoning the relationship; revealing vulnerability at the appropriate pace; being a good listener; knowing how to end a conversation gracefully; knowing how to ask for and offer forgiveness; knowing how to let someone down without breaking their heart; knowing how to sit with someone who is suffering; knowing how to host a gathering where everyone feels embraced; knowing how to see things from another’s point of view.
Brooks argues that all of these different skills rest on one foundational skill: the ability to understand what another person is going through; the ability to see someone deeply and make them feel seen – to accurately know another person, to let them feel valued, heard and understood. He notes that this isn’t just about mastering some set of techniques – it’s a way of life.
The book covers topics including what gets in the way of knowing another person, and what helps. How to have a good conversation. How to ask the right questions. How to be with people in their struggles and how to support them with their strengths.
There’s also a terrific chapter on Life Stories that I highly recommend!
This book is particularly important in our current world of social media, where we have the illusion of social contact without having to perform the gestures that actually build trust, care and affection.