“THE Road to Character” is the title of a book written by David Brooks. I will try to describe in short what Brooks want to say in his book.
In the first place, the author makes in his book an interesting distinction between Adam I and Adam II. With Adam I, he means Adam before the original sin and Adam II, Adam after his fall into sin. Adam I is the man who was created by God in the beginning. He had a basic inclination to do good and love his neighbor. Adam II is the man who was tempted by the devil to become disobedient to God’s commandment of love. He became an ambitious man, focused on achievements and material rewards.
Then God sent his Son into the world to redeem man from his sin of disobedience and man regained the capacity of doing good and to love again. According to David Brooks, many human beings today are shrewd, competitive, productive but with a self-satisfied moral mediocrity.
They are what you call ‘the Big Me.’ After the Redemption of Christ man could be the human being again who has the moral qualities to love intimately, to sacrifice self in the service of others, to live in obedience to some transcendent truth, to have a cohesive inner soul and honors creation and one’s own possibilities.
Today, we are too concerned with the workings of the conscious (or outer) mind, and with the worldly achievements and material recognition that it seeks. But what really matters is ‘the role of the inner mind,’ what goes on below this surface level of awareness.
If the outer mind hungers for status, money and applause, the inner mind hungers for harmony – those moments when self-consciousness fades away and a person is lost in a challenge, a cause, the love of another or the love of God. Modern society has created a giant apparatus for the cultivation of the hard skill, while failing to develop the moral and emotional faculties down below.
If we focus our attention on modern day social activists, like Dorothy Day, the founder of the Christian Worker Movement, or even on historical figures like St. Augustine, we see examples of behavior essential to the formation of character: dignity, courage, humility, renunciation, love. All, in some way, had to struggle – with themselves and with the world – to become what they were. According to Brooks “they had to go down to come up.”
We are suffering today from moral mediocrity. We live in a society that values fame, success, self-expression without restraint; we make virtues of pride and self-esteem.
Brooks talks a lot in his book about grace and sin. He is at ease with the language of faith; far more so, certainly, than many of his readers will be. But it is not always clear what exactly he believes, or how the religious themes sit with the broadly secular virtue ethics he seems generally to espouse.
In the Gospel of Matthew (Mt. 7:24) Jesus says: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock.”
St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians (2: 3-4) says: “There must be no competition among you, no conceit; but everybody is to be self-effacing. Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interests first but everybody thinks of other people’s interests instead.
In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus: his state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.
These are words of wisdom, worth remembering while forming our character.