Saturday, October 08, 2016

Character (Now For Something Completely Different)

Glen Arbor, Michigan

When I was a boy I remember being encouraged by my parents and teachers to watch the first presidential debate on TV. I don't remember what it was about. Probably, I was bored. But children were told this was an historic event. So my family and I settled down in our living room and watched John F. Kennedy debate Richard Nixon.

That was September 26, 1960. Today things are different.  I'm thankful my sons are not little boys any more, because our children should be discouraged from being exposed to the debates and the media coverage.

We should pray for parents who have to figure out how to shield their kids from this amoral catastrophe. We should, as Scripture tells us, pray for our government leaders, especially that they would have moral integrity and character. And, we should focus our hearts and minds on something even more important than "the issues."

So - let me present you with something completely different. A different world. An alternative kingdom. Another path. It's given to us by New York Times writer David Brooks, in The Road to Character.

Character. Brooks begins by making a distinction between two opposing sides of human nature, He calls the two sides Adam I and Adam II.

Adam I wants to do things that strengthen his résumé. Adam I strives to have high personal status and win victories.

Adam II, on the other hand, wants to embody certain moral qualities. Adam II longs to have character. Adam II has a non-self-promoting sense of right and wrong. Adam II not only wants to do good, but to be good.

Adam I self-promotes; Adam II sacrifices self in the service of others.

Adam II lives in service to a transcendent truth that is bigger than himself.

Adam I wants to conquer the world; Adam II wants to serve the world.

Brooks writes:

"While Adam I is creative and savors his own accomplishments, Adam II sometimes renounces worldly success and status for the sake of some sacred purpose. While Adam I asks how things work, Adam II asks why things exist, and what ultimately we are here for. While Adam I wants to venture forth, Adam II wants to return to his roots and savor the warmth of a family meal. While Adam I’s motto is “Success,” Adam II experiences life as a moral drama. His motto is “Charity, love, and redemption.”" (Brooks, Kindle Locations 81-85)

Adam I lives by a utilitarian logic; viz., the logic of economics. Effort leads to reward. Pursue self-interest. Maximize your utility. Impress the world.

Adam II upside-downs the logic of Adam I. Brooks writes:

"It’s a moral logic, not an economic one. You have to give to receive. You have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself. You have to conquer your desire to get what you crave. Success leads to the greatest failure, which is pride. Failure leads to the greatest success, which is humility and learning. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.
To nurture your Adam I career, it makes sense to cultivate your strengths. To nurture your Adam II moral core, it is necessary to confront your weaknesses." (Kindle Locations 90-95)

Our narcissistic culture applauds and feeds Adam I, while dismissing Adam II. The media today feeds on Adam I types. Adam II types were not made for consumption.

"We live," writes Brooks, "in a society that encourages us to think about how to have a great career but leaves many of us inarticulate about how to cultivate the inner life." We live to satisfy our desires at the expense of developing a deep, moral life. "We live in a culture that teaches us to promote and advertise ourselves and to master the skills required for success, but that gives little encouragement to humility, sympathy, and honest self-confrontation, which are necessary for building character."

Since our culture judges people by their abilities, and not their worth, Adam I increases, while Adam II decreases. Thus most people live with a self-satisfied moral mediocrity.

Adam I lives for "résumé virtues"; Adam II lives for "eulogy virtues." Brooks writes:

"The résumé virtues are the ones you list on your résumé, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success. The eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being— whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed." (K63)

A eulogy-virtuous person has been freed from Facebook self-promotion. "Sometimes you don’t even notice these people, because while they seem kind and cheerful, they are also reserved. They possess the self-effacing virtues of people who are inclined to be useful but don’t need to prove anything to the world: humility, restraint, reticence, temperance, respect, and soft self-discipline." (K160-162)


Adam I is morally dis-integrated.


Adam II has character. This is important, isn't it?

(God is still working on my own spiritual character development.)