In the aftermath of a contentious presidential election the bar keeps being lowered as to what is permissible. Inflated statements and unfounded accusations are dressed up as ‘alternative-facts’. Facts deemed unwelcome are called ‘fake news’. Character assassination via Twitter are considered fair game by our new President.
What are we to make of all this?
Enter the sane and measured voice of conservative commentator David Brooks. Under the category ‘everything is relative’, Brooks a long time voice of Republican moderation now finds himself painfully out of step with the excess’ of the Trump administration.
His recent book, ‘The Road to Character’ https://www.c-span.org/video/?325441-1 introduces us to people well known and little known, who exhibited positive values and qualities that we call ‘character’. He focuses on the deeper values that inform a well lived life. He challenges the reader to rebalance the scales between our ‘resume virtues’ – achieving wealth, fame and status – and our ‘eulogy virtues’, those that exist at the core of our being: kindness, bravery, honesty and faithfulness.
Brooks points out what is painfully obvious, that to often our leaders, political and otherwise, are driven by ‘resume virtues’. Such leaders are caught up in the culture of celebrity. Celebrity places the focus on oneself, rather than on the good one can do for others.
‘The Road to Character’ reintroduces familiar names like Dwight Eisenhower and to lesser known names like Frances Perkins and Dorothy Day. Such persons were regular folk like you and me. A mix of strengths and imperfections. What unites them is an underlying sense of deeply held values that influence the choices they make and the path they chose to walk.
The source of their values varied but what unifies their story is an interesting mix of personal restraint and concern for the well being of others. Mixed in is a spirit of persistence that carries a person through times of trial and seeming failure. Simply put, a person of character is guided by values that serve to define who they are and how they live.
I was fortunate to have a dad who was a man of character. Norman Harrop was one of five children in a family that struggled to make ends meet during the Great Depression. In World War II he was a radio man in the US Army Air Corp in India.
Returning home after four years at war, he married and raised two children. He was a small time self-employed building contractor. As a boy I remember an adult saying to my Dad: ‘Norman, your problem as a business man is you’re too honest’. I wondered then and I wonder now: ‘How can a person be too honest?’
Norman’s values were rooted in his faith: He was gentle with his boys, kind and helpful to family and neighbors. A generous person who didn’t draw attention to himself.
When he died of cancer at age 78, a long line of friends, clients, family stretched outside the funeral home and into the parking lot. We gathered to honor a quiet man of character.
David Brooks remind us that the antidote to our self centered, celebrity driven culture is to be found in revisiting and embodying time honored values. Values rooted in our highest ideals as a nation, modeled by mentors and found in the wisdom faith i.e. ‘Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you’.
We live in a time desperate for women and men of character. What values do you hold dear?