Guide to Rethink Our Priorities from The Road to Character

How to rethink our priorities, and strive to build rich inner lives marked by humility and moral depth? The Road to Character by David Brooks  provides an opportunity for us to rethink our priorities, and strive to build rich inner lives marked by humility and moral depth.

With the wisdom, humor, curiosity, and sharp insights that have brought millions of readers to his previous bestsellers, David Brooks has consistently illuminated our daily lives in surprising and original ways. In The Social Animal, he explored the neuroscience of human connection and how we can flourish together. Now, in The Road to Character, he focuses on the deeper values that should inform our lives. Responding to what he calls the culture of the Big Me, which emphasizes external success, Brooks challenges us, and himself, to rebalance the scales between our “résumé virtues”—achieving wealth, fame, and status—and our “eulogy virtues,” those that exist at the core of our being: kindness, bravery, honesty, or faithfulness, focusing on what kind of relationships we have formed.

Looking to some of the world’s greatest thinkers and inspiring leaders, The Road to Character by David Brooks explores how, through internal struggle and a sense of their own limitations, they have built a strong inner character. Labor activist Frances Perkins understood the need to suppress parts of herself so that she could be an instrument in a larger cause. Dwight Eisenhower organized his life not around impulsive self-expression but considered self-restraint. Dorothy Day, a devout Catholic convert and champion of the poor, learned as a young woman the vocabulary of simplicity and surrender. Civil rights pioneers A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin learned reticence and the logic of self-discipline, the need to distrust oneself even while waging a noble crusade.

The Road to Character is an excellent book for a bit of self reflection. Brooks not only writes well about his own philosophy of Adam I vs. Adam II or the "resume" virtues as opposed to the "eulogy" virtues, but weaves many stories of remarkable people into this philosophy as well. It is a truly great read.

Brooks makes brilliant use of two thematic metaphors: Adam I is wholly self-absorbed and self-serving, obsessed with gaining wealth, power, prestige, influence, etc.; Adam II experiences life as a moral drama who exemplifies Greenleaf's concept of a "servant leader," dedicated to making the world a better place by helping others.

In the Introduction, Brooks indicates that The Road to Character is about Adam II: "It's about how some people have cultivated strong character. It's about one mindset that people through the centuries have adopted to put iron in their core and to cultivate a wise heart." He then provides an arresting disclosure: I wrote it, to be honest, to save my soul."

In Chapter Three on "Self-Conquest" was one of the weaker chapters in Brooks' book. If he had focused on Ida Eisenhower instead of her son Dwight, Brooks' main theme of humility and service to others would have been well supported. Unfortunately, the story of Dwight Eisenhower, at least as presented by Brooks, was not impressive and did little to move forward his thesis.

Read this The Road to Character. Follow it's theme. Follow David's suggestions; good changes will occur and over the rest of your life you will built a character centered around ideals of grounded ethics and morality that improve you and the individuals you meet.