Category General Nonfiction

A Commentary on “The Road to Character” by David Brooks

“I have a natural disposition toward shallowness.” That’s a curious line from someone engaged on an exhaustive quest to plumb the depths of human character in a best-selling book, but it sets a tone for the main themes circulating in New York Times columnist and PBS commentator David Brooks’s most recent work, The Road to Character.

Brooks’s self-effacement (“I’m paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am…”) mirrors much of what follows as he takes us on brief biographical tours of various figures he considers moral exemplars through history. His goal is to seek guideposts and commonalities among people of great character, in the hope that he and his readers can be informed, uplifted and inspired to cultivate and improve their own.

It’s an interesting and somewhat disjointed approach...

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“But” And “Yet”: The Arrogance Antidotes

Back when I made my living as a journalist editing a weekly newspaper for which I wrote the editorials, I noticed something over time.

I got far and away my most laudatory feedback when I was the most certain of my position and conveyed as much in no uncertain terms. When I fired away with all guns blazing, rat-a-tat-bang with an occasional grenade of  humor, I would draw admiring comments from a cohort of readers who collectively said, via one expression or other, “You go, Boy! Take it to ‘em!”

And when the subjects deserved to be taken to, as in the stupidity and just plain heartlessness of so much of the AIDS-phobic anti-gay rhetoric of the time, it was easy—bringing a kind of smug satisfaction—to carpet-bomb the opposition and consider it a good day’s work.

However.

It bothered me a little that in cases where I wasn’t nearly as certain of my “position,” where there were at least valid cons...

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Going Slow: In Life, In Play, In Love

I was going to read Carl Honoré’s groundbreaking 2004 book, In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed, in preparation for this post, but given my jam-packed life that never seems to have a moment to spare, I couldn’t possibly afford the time. So I did the next best thing: I watched the (strictly time-controlled, 16-minute) TED talk he presented on the subject 10 years ago.

Ten years, I might add, that, if you’re anything like me, seem to have zoomed by with inordinate, inexplicable, “Now where were we?” speed.

But enough of the speed-tinged ironies about slowness now, for we are here to address a serious point: In 2015, in an era of unprecedented technological prowess, armed and awash with every time-saving tech device thus far imagined by the finest scientific and engineering minds, half a century after futurists were predicting we would by now be enjoying l...

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David Brooks on Tumultuous, Transformative, Soul-Shattering Love

New York Times columnist and PBS pundit David Brooks has written an extraordinary book (The Road to Character) that I will discuss in some depth in a near-future post, but there is one section of it that I think deserves its own highlighting, with only enough discussion from me to move some generous excerpts along. The book itself addresses the grand topic of human character—its qualities, importance, and exemplification—in a cast of 10 historic “characters” whose biographies Brooks has scoured and synthesized on our behalf.

The subjects are mostly giants of history, albeit flawed and so very human, as Brooks reveals in brief chapters devoted to their lives and works.

One of them, the 19th century Victorian era novelist George Eliot, serves as the jumping-off point for a remarkable five-page reflection/digression that is not really about Eliot at all, but instead allows Brooks to offer what amounts...

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A Winter Morning’s Hike With My Friends Henry and Kevin

I managed to invite two friends to tag along with me yesterday morning on a hike in my beloved Annadel State Park. The  unusual thing is they came along in shifts.

My longtime running-biking-hiking-drinking-yakking-deconstructing-the-world buddy Kevin accompanied me on the first and most arduous phase, keeping a pretty serious pace as we hoofed it up Rough Go Trail and around Lake Ilsanjo on a crisp winter morning when fog lay heavily across the distant valleys.

When I got home, my friend Henry was waiting for me in the easy chair in the corner of my bedroom, paying me a surprise visit from his home in Massachusetts, his walking stick by his side...

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