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The People We Want To Be: David Brooks and The Road To Character

by robertrosenkranz on April 15, 2015

David Brooks, who has debated with Intelligence Squared U.S. several times and delivered the keynote address at our 100th debate celebration, summarizes his new book, The Road to Character.  Its the kind of secular sermon we need to hear and encourages us to think about what Brooks calls the “eulogy virtues” as distinguished from the “resume virtues.”

There is a compelling seriousness in his analysis of moral character.  His admiration extends to many on the left, but there is also something profoundly conservative about his thinking.

The busier and more successful we are, the more reason to step back and consider what Brooks has to say.

As he writes:

“The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?  We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.”

As always, Brooks reveals profound concepts with straightforward examples.  This brief summary serves to highlight his key concepts, be he looks to some of the world’s greatest leaders, thinkers and doers for guidance:  Dwight Eisenhower, Dorothy Day and Frances Perkins, to start.

What are the experiences one should have on the way toward the richest possible inner life?  Brooks writes:

THE HUMILITY SHIFT.  “All the people I’ve ever deeply admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses.  They have achieved a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.”

SELF-DEFEAT “External success is achieved through competition with others. But character is built during the confrontation with your own weakness.”

THE DEPENDENCY LEAP “Individual will, reason and compassion are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride and self-deception. We all need redemptive assistance from outside. Character is defined by how deeply rooted you are.”

ENERGIZING LOVE “The kind of love decenters the self. It reminds you that your true riches are in another. Most of all, this love electrifies. It puts you in a state of need and makes it delightful to serve what you love. Day’s love for her daughter spilled outward and upward.”

THE CALL WITHIN THE CALL “We all go into professions for many reasons: money, status, security. But some people have experiences that turn a career into a calling. These experiences quiet the self. All that matters is living up to the standard of excellence inherent in their craft.”

THE CONSCIENCE LEAP “In most lives there’s a moment when people strip away all the branding and status symbols, all the prestige that goes with having gone to a certain school or been born into a certain family. They leap out beyond the utilitarian logic and crash through the barriers of their fears.”

David’s book is now available on

Read his New York Times article here.

robertrosenkranzThe People We Want To Be: David Brooks and The Road To Character