Rachel Levit
Humans and other animals

The Moral Bucket List

David Brooks in his New York Times column:

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.

I came to the conclusion that wonderful people are made, not born — that the people I admired had achieved an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments.

If we wanted to be gimmicky, we could say these accomplishments amounted to a moral bucket list, the experiences one should have on the way toward the richest possible inner life. Here, quickly, are some of them:

  • The humility shift: “…all the people I’ve ever deeply admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses.”
  • Self-defeat: “…character is built during the confrontation with your own weakness.”
  • The dependency leap: “We all need redemptive assistance from outside. Character is defined by how deeply rooted you are.”
  • Energized love: Dorothy Day — “No human creature could receive or contain so vast a flood of love and joy as I often felt after the birth of my child. With this came the need to worship, to adore.”
  • The call within the call: “We all go into professions for many reasons: money, status, security. But some people have experiences that turn a career into a calling.”
  • The conscience leap: “In most lives there’s a moment when people strip away all the branding and status symbols, all the prestige that goes with having gone to a certain school or been born into a certain family. They leap out beyond the utilitarian logic and crash through the barriers of their fears.”

Although I’ve excerpted much more than I usually would from this column, you should absolutely read it in its entirety:
David Brooks — The Moral Bucket List

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