“I have enough character,” I’ve been known to say when anyone tells me that a trying experience for me “builds character.”
I’ve thought a lot about character this last week as I dove into David Brooks’ The Road to Character (2015) for a book club discussion. Not a quick read. I could say just slogging through it built some character, character defined as the qualities a person has that make him or her distinct from others.
To put Brooks’ book in the simplest of terms, he goes to great lengths to distinguish between resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Resume virtues include “achieving wealth, fame, and status,” whereas eulogy virtues are “those that exist at the core of our being: kindness, bravery, honesty, and faithfulness.”
For examples of how people developed eulogy virtues, he examines lives of leaders in our history who have learned important lessons in life from experiences such as self-defeat, suffering, a second love, self-restraint, honesty, and self-acceptance.
In this book club of older people, we stopped a minute to explore where we’d spent most of our lives. We could see overlap in some of our professions, but primarily we’d spent our lives focused on building our resumes. Always busy. Always striving for the next best thing–a job, a raise, a title.
In fact, we’d barely thought about how or what to do to develop or improve upon our eulogy virtues.
It’s not too late, however, for us to think about eulogy virtues. I’m sure you’ve thought of your obituary. What would you like people to say about you? “She was the first female president of the world bank. She owned three homes, one in Italy, one on Cape Cod , and an apartment overlooking Central Park. She held advanced degrees in two fields. Her brilliant commentary on the political ethos of the day frequently made headlines. She was the first woman to be worth a billion dollars.”
Or would you like your eulogy to say, “She listened. She was content. She radiated an inner strength. She stood up for herself while respecting the viewpoint of others. She was a true friend.”
As we discussed what we could do yet today to enhance our awareness and growth of eulogy virtues, one gal summed it up with “bloom where you are planted.” We talked about not having to be so concerned about “doing” anymore, but we could focus more on “being.” On centering. On finding what’s truly important in life.
If you choose to read this book, listen to Brooks’ TED talk on character first and read what you find online. Then you’ll have a flavor of why he, as a columnist and PBS contributor, among other things, is referred to as “one of the leading intellectuals of our times.” Read just 50 pages as a time. That’s all my brain could manage. But little by little, I came to appreciate what he was trying to say. Let’s get our priorities straight. Let’s try to balance our lives.
Just for today I want my eulogy to say, “After her husband died, she never gave up. Even though he’d done everything around the house, including cooking, she learned to address plumbing issues, assemble furniture, navigate a grocery store, make at least two recipes, deal with growing physical decline. And continued her habit of hanging out on her couch, developing character as she smiled contentedly, behaved as pleasantly as possible, listened to all without judgement, and tried not to become a burden to anyone in her old age.”
Smile! Want to join me? Care to chat? Stop over for coffee. After 34 months of widowhood, I’ve finally learned how to work Marv’s Mr. Coffee pot.
It’s easier to clean if you use a filter.