Posts Tagged With: character

“Lukewarm” must mean predictable.

The Road to Character by David Brooks

A Book Review by Marion D. Aldridge

This was a good book for me to read, though I alternated between being energized by it and frustrated.

Brooks is a conservative columnist for the New York Times. Yet, a liberal friend recommended this volume to me. I liked the possibilities of that combination. As a reader, a writer, a political observer, and a theologian/ethicist, I tire of the predictable. Tire. Tire. Tire. I think “lukewarm” must mean predictable. There’s nothing there. Some emperors have no clothes. Blah blah blah…

Brooks is better than that. But “The Road to Character” is uneven. I accept some of what he writes, but it’s pretty random.

I like his premise in the first sentence, that, as we age, we ought to pay more attention to our “eulogy virtues” than to our “resume virtues.” His method, for a few chapters, is to tell the stories of men and women who are successful, who he believes demonstrate character—Dwight Eisenhower, Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day and others. Brooks lifts up certain words as important: perseverance, humility, dignity, and moderation. There also seems to be a lot of dumb luck involved in the attainments of his examples, not to mention some extraordinary intelligence.

Brooks attempts to make a case for character and morality. But it was impossible to figure out which traits I should be emulating. His examples are often people with giant character flaws. I understand that even the best of us have deficiencies, but Brooks’ analysis seems scattershot. What is the takeaway?

Brooks is of the “Life is complicated” school, as am I. Life is full of paradox. But it is the task of a non-fiction author to help the reader work through the contradictions. On one page, he writes, “The more you love, the more you can love.” Okay. Two pages later, he writes, “All love is narrowing. It is the renunciation of other possibilities for the sake of one choice.” How are both true? I have my own opinions, but I’d like for Brooks to help me understand how his ethical framework includes both concepts simultaneously.

Finally, in the last chapter, Brooks produces a “Humility Code” which, like the rest of the book, was fairly ambiguous—seven pages of a bit of this and a little bit of that.

Lots of epigrammatic hints from David on how to live a life of character, but if this was a road, I got lost somewhere along the way.

Categories: Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Quotations, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

You Don’t Have to Go Far!

Several weeks ago, in a blog about walking, I might have implied that all of my strolls were meditative in nature, serious communion with God and creation.


Not true.  There are certainly days I am all ears and eyes for the beauty of God’s world.  But, honestly, that is rare.


 Almost all of life is complicated.  Even a simple habit and hobby such as hiking or walking has multiple motivations.


You never know what you will run into if you just leave your house, go out your front door, and wander through your own neighborhood.  I ran into a July 4 Parade that was more fun than anything happening downtown.




Experiences that make me smile do not require plane trips to Peru or car trips to Canada.  I enjoy those too, but close-to-home perambulations can bring pleasant surprises.


One of my friends reminded me, keeping me from being too pious, that when I am in strange places, I have also been known to discover pastry and chocolate shops!  Just go out the front door, wherever you are, and wander.  I do love to find (and eat) good food.  I won an award with an article I wrote about finding my favorite-ever restaurant on a daylong stroll through Brussels, Belgium.


On many occasions, as I walk through my community, I listen to a ball game on the radio or to a podcast on my iPhone.  I need motivation of all kinds to keep me walking, day after day, year after year.


On a beautiful spring day, perfect weather, the pure pleasure of being alive in the outdoors is reward enough.  But in the dead of winter, when it is freezing outside, I tell my wife I am getting ready to take a “character walk.”  Pure discipline is required.  If I can anticipate some payoff that has value in addition to exercise, then that encourages me to keep walking.  (Some people workout on treadmills indoors and watch television while they exercise.  Whatever works for you…)


Since I have been retired for almost five months, I rarely miss a day walking.  I hiked, strolled, and roamed on foot somewhere every day in April and almost every day in May and June.


One other thing:  My neighbors should pay me.  Not only do I pick up money.  I pick up nails.  I have not kept a log of how many nails, screws and sharp objects I find every month, but I know I have prevented a truckload of flat tires.  Every now and then I take a bag with me and pick up cans and bottles so they can be recycled.


Having been a serious walker for ten or more years, I look for motivation anywhere I can find it. 


Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Health, Holiday, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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