Posted by: ritagone | June 10, 2015

“Stumblers”

I’ve just finished one of the good ones: a book by David Brooks (who often writes for the New York Times) called “The Road to Character.” In it, he describes two different kinds of people: Adam I and Adam II. Adam I is self-centered, looking in the wrong places for satisfaction and happiness. Adam II is selfless and has a strong moral code. Brooks calls this character difference the difference between the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. We have drifted into character that seeks to be Adam I, amassing lists of accomplishments and possessions, which Brooks believes is, in part, why we’re in so much trouble as a society. We need to be more concerned with the virtues that – at our funeral – would show us to have had strong and sound character.

Then each chapter is the story of a person who, often against great adversity and odds, became an Adam II person and lived a life that enriched society and the world.

I loved this book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough to everyone I know. It’s worth buying, either in electronic or hardback form. Get it. Read it. Savor it. Learn from it.

At the very end of the book, in his summary, he has a section called “Stumblers,” and I’d like to quote a few paragraphs here, because he sums up exactly what Jesus told us in Scripture about how we should live our lives. Enjoy the quote, and then think about it some time today. It’s worth spending some time mulling over, as I plan to do for quite a while:

“The good news of this book is that it is okay to be flawed, since everyone is. Sin and limitation are woven through our lives. We are all stumblers, and the beauty and meaning of life are in the stumbling – in recognizing the stumbling and trying to become more graceful as the years go by.

The stumbler scuffs through life, a little off balance here and there, sometimes lurching, sometimes falling to her knees. But the stumbler faces her imperfect nature, her mistakes and weaknesses, with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness. She is sometimes ashamed of the perversities in her nature – the selfishness, the self-deceit, the occasional desire to put lower loves above higher ones.

But humility offers self-understanding. When we acknowledge that we screw up, and feel the gravity of our limitations, we find ourselves challenged and stretched with a serious foe to overcome and transcend.

The stumbler is made whole by this struggle.”

 

In an age and climate where it’s every man or woman for himself or herself, where morals can be taken off and put on like a shirt, and where everyone does right in his or her own eyes, to the detriment, most often, of all those around them, Brooks’ book strikes a chord.

Yes, the “good old days” were not always as good as they sometimes seem in the rearview mirror. Yes, in some ways we’ve progressed, matured, broadened our scope and horizons. But there was something about past generations, those who lived by a code of honor not often seen anymore, that is wonderfully sweet and simple: like the physician’s creed, “do no harm” was worth it as a motto for one’s life. Today, the focus is inward: “do what feels good to you.” Very different attitudes, with very different outcomes.

 

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said: “The true test of civilization is not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops – no, but the kind of man the country turns out.”

 

davidbrooks

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