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Creating a worthwhile character

Photo by Sterling Z. Rubottom

New York Times columnist David Brooks argued in his book “The Road to Character” that we have two opposing sides to our nature–Adam I and Adam II.

The two represent our core human nature through a metaphor from the book of Genesis. Adam I is the career-focused, ambitious side of our nature. This is the external Adam that produces “résumé virtues.” Adam II, on the other hand, is the character-focused, moral side of our nature. This is the internal Adam that produces “eulogy virtues” (what our loved ones will say about us when us die).

The motto of Adam I is “success and accomplishment,” while the motto of Adam II is “love, sacrifice and redemption.”  Adam I wants to conquer the world and secure victories. Adam II wants to serve the world and secure compassion.

To nurture Adam I, we cultivate our strengths. To nurture Adam II, we must confront our weaknesses. We can’t live a life completely devoted to Adam I in exclusion of Adam II, or vice versa. We need both natures. Adam I and Adam II will always be in conflict, and we must learn to live in the tension of that conflict.

We live in a culture that celebrates and rewards Adam I. We work hard at building our “résumé virtues.” We spend large amounts of time and resources getting an education so that we can have a successful career.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with desiring external success. The problem begins when we start valuing our “résumé virtues” more than our “eulogy virtues.” We forget to spend time cultivating deep and intimate relationships with our friends and family because we busy ourselves trying to promote and advertise ourselves to the world.

In the next 10 years, you may be in a different career than you anticipated. But your character, developed or not, will remain with you in all circumstances.

Brooks proposes you invest in as many resources, if not more, in developing a deeper inner life as you do your external life. You most likely have some plan for what you want your future life to look like. Do you have a plan for developing your character? Is it part of your daily, weekly, monthly or yearly goals?

Developing good character takes deliberate effort. We should have a vision of the kind of inner life we want to emulate and a road map for how to get there. I don’t believe there is a single plan for developing character that works for everyone. You need to find what works for you.

Find people—dead or alive—who embody the character you desire to have. Study them; engage them. Find out about their weaknesses and how they deal with them. It is not an easy task. Honest self-confrontation can be uncomfortable. But it is worth it.

You should be aiming to be a better person today than you were yesterday, every single day of your life.

Character development is more important than any ambition or dream you’ll ever have. Character is who you are, so make your character bigger than your dreams.