Posts Tagged With: humility

“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

An Audacious Proposal

For a couple of thousand years, human beings have lived tribally: my clan against your clan, my nation against your nation, my religion against your religion.

My proposal: for the next two thousand years, more or less, we live as if all humans were part of the same family, and that we act compassionately toward one another.

I know nothing about statecraft, so I’ll leave that problem to people with different skills than mine. But I do know something about religion.

For instance, I’m aware that the Bible is full, exasperatingly full, of warnings about hanging out with those who are different:

  • “You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy, and I have separated you from the other peoples to be mine.” Leviticus 20: 26
  • “Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” Ezra 10: 11

Separate. Avoid. Shun. Sometimes, kill.

I’m sure the Koran and other holy texts have similar passages that counsel, “We’re the best! We’re number one. Our way is the right way. Other beliefs are false and dangerous. Stay away from them. Destroy them.” Hindus and Buddhists have also victimized others because of religious intolerance.

In the twenty-first century, the tribe that is threatened is humanity. Maybe it’s time to pay attention to some of the other texts in our holy books:

  • Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” I Corinthians 13: 4-5
  • Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22: 37-40
  • “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5: 7-9

 From the sacred texts of Islam:

  • “There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned.” (Holy Quran: 2/ 256)
  • “Show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbor that is a kinsman and the neighbor that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom your right hands possess. (Al Quran 4:37)

It’s time for two millennia of zealotry, persecution, argumentation, name-calling, and finger pointing to give way to something different. This doesn’t mean people of faith become less passionate about their beliefs—just less angry and arrogant. I can tell my story and I can listen to your story. Religious people are endlessly talking about repentance and transformation, but it’s funny how it’s always the other person who is expected to change.

Here’s my audacious proposal:

I ask my Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan and Hindu friends to love, to be kind, to be patient, to be gentle, to be good, to be merciful, to be peacemakers, to be gracious. If we don’t, according to a Jewish rabbi quoted in the Christian scriptures,

 “You may even be found fighting against God.” (Gamaliel, in Acts 5: 39)



Categories: Faith/Spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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