Category General Nonfiction

One More Mile on “The Road to Character”

My longtime friend Jay Helman had some additional reflections regarding my most recent post on David Brooks’s The Road to Character that I found worthy of note. So I’m turning the first part of this post over to him before winding up with a few thoughts in response. More of a continuing conversational mode that blogs ideally engender, rather than a straight monologue. So pour a cup of coffee and enjoy!

JAY: I have continued to chew on this post which has led me to the realm of sport and, to a lesser extent, film.

Sport began with me thinking about a widely acknowledged great man with whom I had the honor of working briefly in my life. As an 18- and 19-year-old athlete I had the extraordinary opportunity to be part of Coach John Wooden’s UCLA basketball program...

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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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