The Road to Character


 The columnist David Brooks says there are two types of virtues, resume virtues and eulogy virtues – the things that are said about you after you are dead. We spend our lives chasing the first but in the end it’s the second that we most desire, deep down. 

Speaking today at the RSA he talked about the concept of Adam 1 and Adam 2  – the idea coined by Joseph B. Soloveitchik to describe the external and internal lives of people. 

Brooks says these two live by different logic. And the danger comes when the two are out of balance. If there is too much Adam 1 a core piece of the personality (Adam 1) becomes less impressive each day. He believes this is what is happening today and he says there are several reasons for that including lack of time, the increasing prevalence of social media and the fact that our culture is now focussed on self worth. “We’ve told a couple of generations how great they are and they believed us.”

The result is an increased desire for fame and the loss of the capacity to have sophisticated moral conversations.  

He says if you use Google Ngrams to analyse the popularity of certain words it is clear economic words are up, moral words are down. 

So what are activities that Brooks believes lead to moral depth? 

First, humility – not self-deprecation but the ability to truly  see yourself from a distance. “The essential drama is in overcoming your own weaknesses.”

Second, suffering. “We wouldn’t call someone deep unless they had suffered.” Sometimes people shrivel when they suffer, he says, but it can develop self knowledge, empathy and even transcendence. 

Third, a capacity for great love. 

The word “character” has migrated from an Adam 2 world to an Adam 1 world, he says, and it is now something which helps you get on. It needs to be reclaimed. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *