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January 25, 2015

The Road to Character by David Brooks

David Brooks, New York Times writer and author of acclaimed books BOBOS IN PARADISE (2000), its follow up ON PARADISE DRIVE (2004) and THE SOCIAL ANIMAL (2010), is back with an eye-opening and controversial book that he writes “I wrote (it) to save my soul”. THE ROAD TO CHARACTER (2015) examines the long-forgotten value of humility in a society characterized by ruthless meritocracy. And who can dispute the fact that we live in an age where people worship at the altar of goal-oriented superstars and winners?

Jenny Javier, The Road to Character, May 4We live with the fact daily, that we may in fact miss it completely:  our culture that has become all about the “Big Me”. Rather than focusing on “eulogy virtues” (virtues that exist at the core of one’s being, such as kindness), the culture in the last 50 years has focused on “resume virtues” (skills that contribute to external success).

What is so wrong with the focus on BIG ME? The author quotes Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, who described the two sides to human nature in his book LONELY MAN OF FAITH. Adam I is career-oriented, status-seeking and ambitious whose motto is SUCCESS while Adam II wants to love, to sacrifice himself in the service of others and lives by the motto CHARITY, LOVE AND REDEMPTION. Humans are forever caught in self confrontation, as the outer, majestic Adam is not fully reconcilable with the inner, humble Adam.

According to Mr. Brooks, our present culture has made it harder to be good by nurturing and rewarding shrewd, crafty and self-preserving Adam I, while leaving self-effacing Adam II neglected. And who can blame society? Typically people overlook Adam II types, because while they seem kind and cheerful, they are also reserved. Adam II radiates quiet weight and stability, freed from the need to prove themselves superior all the time. They possess the virtues of people who are inclined to be useful but don’t need to prove anything to the world, whereas Adam I’s egotism is a ravenous hunger in a small space—self-concerned, competitive, distinction-hungry, always needing to be in the center of attention.

Mr. Brooks wrote the book because he wanted to know what the road to building (Adam II) character looks like and how other people have travelled it. He studies men and women throughout history who have built strong inner character and who have achieved certain depth. These are people whose names are not likely to ring a bell (like Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquaio) but whose climb to success was surrendered to the struggle to deepen the soul.

There is no seven-point program to developing Adam II but this book is off to good start.

The Road to Character is on sale April 14, 2015.

PRHPenguin Random House is the world’s first truly global trade book publisher. It was formed on July 1, 2013, upon the completion of an agreement between Bertelsmann and Pearson. Penguin Random House employs more than 10,000 people globally across almost 250 editorially and creatively independent imprints and publishing houses that collectively publish more than 15,000 new titles annually. Its publishing lists include more than 70 Nobel Prize laureates and hundreds of the world’s most widely read authors.

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