We often lament the loss of good character in our society. There’s a sense that our leaders and even members of our community can’t be trusted to do the right thing and are only out for themselves, the collective good be damned. Why does this sense of moral anomie exist? And what can we do about it?
My guest today has written a book exploring these questions. His name is David Brooks. He’s a columnist at The New York Times and in his latest book, The Road to Character, he takes a look at what exactly we mean when we talk about character and why it seems like there’s a lack of it today. David and I begin our discussion with the “crooked timber” view of humanity that people had in previous generations and how it shaped moral development. He then takes us through the cultural changes that got rid of this perspective of human nature and how that led to a loss of a moral vocabulary that makes it hard for people today to even talk about character.
We then take a look at the lives of several eminent individuals from history and what they can teach us about character formation. From General Eisenhower’s battle to harness his uncontrollable anger, to George Marshall’s inner fight for discipline and the ability to put big picture goals ahead of personal ambition.
We end our conversation talking about the mindsets and actions we can take to live a life of character.
This is an important, interesting, and edifying episode I hope you’ll tune in for.
- How an old radio show inspired David to write The Road to Character
- How the self-esteem movement swung too far
- David’s definition of character
- Kant’s vs. Rousseau’s view of humanity, and how it impacts our modern thinking
- Why every man needs to identify his “core sin”
- Adam I vs Adam II — the two sides of our nature
- The vocabulary of morality, and why modern society has lost touch with it
- Why it’s important to be able to describe what’s going on inside you
- How Dwight Eisenhower struggled with and overcame his anger problems
- Institutional thinking — what it is, why it’s decreased, and why that’s a problem
- How to counteract the possible downsides of institutional thinking
- The importance of balancing your commitments
- What Augustine’s idea of “ordered love” can teach us about building character
- The sweetness of seeking “higher joys” — why our desires are too paltry
- How to be a man of character in a busy, self-serving modern world
- Why being a star in your 20s isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
- The most important virtue
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Command Performance radio show
- Command Performance on VJ Day (episode #87)
- What is Character? Its 3 True Qualities and How to Develop It
- Character is Power Poster
- Podcast: Forces of Character
- The Power of Habit
- 15 Maxims on Being a Reliable Man
- Podcast: The Myth of Following Your Passion
- David Foster Wallace Kenyon College commencement speech
- Joseph Soloveitchik’s 1965 essay outlining Adam I and Adam II
- Leadership Lessons from Dwight Eisenhower
- Proverbs 16:32
- It’s A Wonderful Life & Easy Rider
- The Golden Mean
- Augustine’s The Confessions
The Road to Character is the best book I’ve read so far this year. In fact, it’s up there with Resilience and Self and Soul as one of my all-time favorite non-fiction books. David Brooks does a masterful job articulating vague hunches that I think a lot of people have about the state of character today, but more importantly he provides some broad yet actionable guidelines on what we can do to recapture a sense of deep moral meaning in our lives. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy today.
Connect With David Brooks
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Last updated: April 6, 2017