David Brooks’s meditation on “dual-conscious” thinking in yesterday’s Times is an excellent piece leading into Mother’s Day tomorrow. Mothers are natural dual-thinkers; it is a mother’s work, perhaps uniquely, to process analysis of her actions as and after she takes them, and in doing so work consistently, continuously, to improve the lives of those around her—friends, lovers, spouses, children. It is unclear whether the ability to think—and process thinking—in this way genetic, or learned. (There is ample science.) For Brooks’s generals, it is the latter. It is intellectual. But for many mothers, it is instinctual, and whether we went to Princeton may not bear on our ability to be the Petraeus of Mums. 

Increasingly, what might otherwise be called “entrepreneurial thinking,” or “creative thinking” is a necessary survival mechanism, in war zones as well as in playrooms. How to train people to think in innovative ways is becoming a part of the American military’s educational program; this is what fascinates Brooks. In an excellent analogy he considers the creation of a kind of Partisan Review within the Army, a journal where contributors can publish new analyses, and spar; he calls the resulting flow of ideas—this way of thinking vacillating between action and insight—“dual-consciousness.”

“Dual-consciousness” is a compelling way of being in the world—and, specifically, Brooks points out, of working within traditionally bureaucratic institutions—that allows for entrepreneurial thinking in otherwise deeply non-entrepreneurial environments. It kills off less practical solutions. Brooks considers ways in which young military members are taught less about the mathematics of attrition and more about negotiations, diplomacy, and the subtler arts of counter-insurgency. Is it possible that this kind of thinking—to consistently reconsider, and if necessary discard, the current kind of thinking—could be institutionalized? Ask your mother.

Near the end of his piece, Brooks makes reference to things that hinder dual thinking, including “tenure rules.” Whether or not the next generation of academic leaders consider overthrowing the custom of tenure—considered so central to the preservation of academic free thought—it is clear that it is specifically in tenured positions when this kind of Act/Consider Actions/Re-Process Actions consciousness is necessary. This is why mothers understand. Motherhood is ultimate example of tenure. The path to motherhood is often rigorous, and the reward uniquely joyful. It is only once one is appointed that the hard work has begun.