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About The


Ethics & Religion
May 26, 2016
Column #1,813
"The Road To Character"
By Mike McManus

Columnist David Brooks asked readers this week, "Why is Hillary Clinton so unpopular?" When she was Secretary of State, she had a 66% approval rating. And as recently as March 2015, 50% supported her, and 39% disapproved.

Now 60% say they don't share her values - the same disapproval rating of Donald Trump! Brooks says she gives off "an exclusively professional vibe: industrious, calculated, goal-oriented, distrustful. It's hard from the outside to have a sense of her as a person; she is a role."

By contrast, Brooks asserted that most people "feel more vivid and alive outside the work experience." To many she seems "Machiavellian, crafty, power-oriented, untrustworthy."

His answer is that people with "fulfilling vocations develop and be seen to develop, sanctuaries outside them: in play, solitude, family, faith, hobbies and leisure...Even successful lives need these sanctuaries - in order to be a real person instead of just a productive one."

This thesis is fleshed out in Brooks' new best-selling book, "The Road to Character." He contrasts the "resume virtues," skills you bring to the job market - with "eulogy virtues" that are deeper "that get talked about at your funeral," whether you "are kind, brave, honest or faithful: what kind of relationships you formed."

He contrasts "Adam I, the career-oriented, ambitious side of our nature" who wants "to build, create, produce and discover have high status and win victories."

Adam II is the "internal Adam" who wants to embody moral qualities - "to love intimately, to sacrifice self in the service of others, to live in obedience to some transcendent truth."

Adam I pursues self-interest and to impress the world. "Adam II lives by an inverse logic. It's a moral logic, not an economic one. You have to give to receive. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself."

The book is about people who have cultivated strong character - yet were successful in the world's eyes, as well: Frances Perkins, who inspired much of the New Deal as Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor; Dwight Eisenhower, Augustine, Dorothy Day.

Frances Perkins witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 that was so horrific that 47 people jumped to their death. That sparked in her a fierce resolve, a righteous anger that led her into politics to lobby the state legislature to pass worker safety legislation, and a bill to limit the workweek to 54 hours.

Her mentor was Al Smith, a rising state legislator, who told her that if she wanted to affect real change, she had to "work with sleazy legislators and the rough party pols." Though she was only 33, she dressed like a mother with black dresses to be taken seriously by men twice her age.

When Smith was elected governor, he appointed Perkins to the Industrial Commission that regulated workplace conditions. She helped settle many major strikes.

After Franklin Roosevelt was elected President, he asked her to become Secretary of Labor. Before accepting, she outlined her terms: that he would seek massive unemployment relief, a giant public works program, minimum wage laws, a Social Security program for old age insurance and the abolition of child labor. That's the New Deal.

One Halloween when Dwight Eisenhower was 10, he wanted to trick or treat with his older brothers, but his parents said he was too young. Enraged, he rushed into the yard and pounded his fists against a tree, leaving his hands bloody. His father lashed him with a hickory switch and sent him to bed.

An hour later, his mother came to sit next to his bed. She quoted a Bible verse: "He that conquereth his own soul is greater than he who taketh a city." She bandaged his wounds and told her son to beware of the anger and hatred burning inside. Hatred is a futile thing that only injures the person harboring it.

At age 76, Eisenhower wrote, "I have always looked back on that conversation as one of the most valuable moments of my life."

Another key lesson came from a boxing coach at West Point, who told him, "If you can't smile when you get up from a knockdown, you're never going to lick an opponent."

When he led the Army in war, "I firmly determined that my mannerisms and speech in public would always reflect the cheerful certainty of victory - that any pessimism and discouragement I might ever feel would be reserved for my pillow."

Brooks concludes that "the most essential parts of life are matters of moral choice: whether to be brave or cowardly, honest or deceitful, compassionate or callous, faithful or disloyal."

A lesson for all of us.

Copyright (c) 2016 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. For past columns, go to, and hit Search for any topic.


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