Posts Tagged With: dignity

“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

The Gap between the Fears (Guest post by Helen Summer)

(This picture is of one of my yoga instructors, Helen Summer, hanging upside down in a “suspended pigeon.” I could do that when I was five years old.)

suspended pigeon

I have fallen all over the world. There is no telling how many times I’ve tripped, or otherwise lost my balance, and fallen. Falling itself doesn’t bother me. A generalized fear of landing on my face AND knocking my front teeth out does. Having lots of opportunities, I’ve learned what I fear and what actually happens are not the same…

  • At a Louisville, KY dog show, with 4 fingers underneath a 60-pound Otterhound’s collar, I had a solid grip when she bolted for her wire crate. That stuff about let go or be dragged is true. Mild cuts, bruised knees, slight black eye. Teeth fine. Favorite sweatshirt ripped.
  • On the Norfolk Broads, near Ludham, England, I fell between the boat and its mooring. Huge and colorful bruises to a lot of my body. Face and teeth fine. Laundry.
  • While facilitating The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People at the SC Education Lottery, I tripped over an electrical cord and went to my knees. Face, teeth, and knees of new silk slacks fine.
  • Carrying a bucket containing 1.5 gallons of “used turtle water”, my foot went down “funny” on the last brick step and I landed in a wet heap on a twisted ankle. Face and teeth fine. Laundry.
  • Teaching a yoga class, I saw my left big toe catch in the right leg pants hem. It was just a soft tumble to hands and knees. Face and teeth fine.
  • On Unter den Linden, where Hitler marched troops in former East Berlin, I went airborne then crashed down on the stone street between two double-decker buses. Hands and knees scraped/bruised injured C5 & C6, stunning 10-week black eye. Teeth fine. Broken sunglasses.

With all the falling, what am I doing hanging upside down?! Here, in the gap between the fears (the pre-fear of what might happen and the post-fear of what could’ve) I am present with what is. The ultimate liberation is being free from our own minds. This is where I’ve found my comfort zone, in the gap.

With the focus on breath, muscles release, body softens and lengthens, mind quiets. In this moment, there is no fear. I reached back with both hands gently taking hold of my foot. BOTH HANDS!! Not the white-knuckle-death-grip on the side of the swing or extending one arm toward the earth.

This wasn’t like the times before when I’d fed emotionall and physical fear with multicolored chunks of imagination. Nope, this time I let go and someone digitally caught the exhale.

In the gap, suspended above the earth, both hands to my foot, eyes closed. Face and teeth fine.


Helen Summer is a life-long learner. Her professional background includes leadership and personal development. In her encore career, teaching Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga, Helen specializes in assisting others release their relaxation response.

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

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