If It Feels Right…


Brooks, David




Written by David Brooks and published by The New York Times on September 12, 2011, “If It Feels Right” analyzes a study conducted by sociologist Christian Smith about young people's moral lives. The results of the study indicate that young Americans are “bad… at thinking and talking about moral issues” and that they lead their lives with an individual moral compass instead of thinking more broadly about a “shared moral framework.” Brooks' article elicits questions about morality, values, motives, individualism, youth and whether it makes sense to have “what feels right” guide our moral decisions and lives.

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Big Questions

Can selfish motives result in positive action?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What does Brooks find disheartening about the results of Christian Smith's study? Why does he find it disheartening?
  2. What do you think it means to have a “shared moral framework”?
  3. To what extent do you think moral choices should be a matter of individual taste? To what extent should they be based on a “framework” that we share with other people?
  4. What do you make of the student's quote, “I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it. But different people feel different ways, so I couldn't speak on behalf of anyone else as to what's right and wrong”? Is moral nonjudgmentalism (as Brooks calls it) a bad thing? Why or why not?
  5. Why does Brooks say that Smith's study ultimately says more about adult America than youthful America? Do you think he's right? Is this fair?
  6. What do you think it means for “sturdy virtues” to be “diluted into shallow values”? Do you see this happening today?
  7. How does the "if it feels right..." mentality impact our giving? Serving? Leadership? How might it influence these things in the future?
  8. Do you have a strong sense of right and wrong? If so, how have you learned it?
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