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Looking at “The Road to Character” by David Brooks


I was enjoying my morning coffee and watching the morning news with Charlie Rose when one of my favorite NY Times columnists, David Brooks, came on to talk about his new book, “The Road to Character.”

In a nutshell, he may have said what many of us have wondered.

As our society obsesses over success, what can be said about character?

Brooks then went on to explain that when he dies, he hopes he will be recognized for those virtues of character he treasures, like courage, honesty and faithfulness.

He described our society and how many of us practice the ”Big Me” concept, which emphasizes our success, and he noted how this approach has been steadily growing in our culture for the past several years. He says there are two sets of virtues: resume virtues that you use in the marketplace and eulogy virtues, the ones that people will use to describe you at your funeral.

Calling For a Balance

Being a success, working hard, striving to achieve, really does sound like a familiar set of goals, as most of us understand it, often practice it, and in many cases, teach it to our kids.

Brooks is not saying that is wrong, but he is calling for a more balanced approach, where the basic virtues of character, kindness, integrity, courage, and faithfulness, are also valued, practiced and taught. Brooks says, “About once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all. When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day.”

Those words made my ears go straight up. I run into people like this too, but they are rare. Very rare.

People with Character

I have a friend who takes time once a week, every week, to visit several senior shut-ins in care facilities. Often when he arrives, the person he came to visit is sitting in the hall waiting for him! Yes, that is virtue and character in action – exactly what I believe David Brooks is talking about.

Another rare lady that I knew well, passed away at 94, and the funeral was overflowing with people. There were banks of flowers surrounding her casket, and many donations in her honor to her church. She had those character virtues in spades, as one person after another talked about how much she had helped them and how wonderful she was.

I’m looking forward to reading David Brooks’ book and hopefully, following that lead.


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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Katie Lips

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