A Book Review:
The Road to Character
by David Brooks
In the last year I have often posted links to David Brooks' New York Times columns in its Op-Ed pages and gushed on my Facebook Page, "I think I love this man." Such an unlikely romance. Not only am I a contemplative nun but his politics and mine would seem naturally to fall into opposite camps. The obvious reasons for this unlikelihood can be found in the Wikikpedia mini David Brooks bio on Wikipedia. The odd attraction is due to my absolute amazement that his columns concerning discipline, humility, forgiveness, character, human values appear where they do and come from what seems to be a very reflective soul. These essays are sprinkled between more typical political commentary. Judging from comments from readers it would seem that these are not topics very attractive in what often seems to be a consumerist, self-centered, driven, amoral culture. Brooks writes about another value system. And the system to which him points is an ethical, humanist, communitarian and, if I dare say, a spiritual one.
Another factor pointing to our mis-match is that David Brooks is the politically conservative voice on National Public Radio and PBS News Hour. But I have come to respect his brand of Republicanism which is reasoned, open, informed and well-considered.
His recent book "The Road to Character" has been very well-received but is not without criticism. The critics call it preachy and judgmental. They seem uncomfortable with the spirituality that oozes out around the sides of Brooks' columns but generally is not specific stated. Reading the Wikipedia bio indicates that Brooks, evidently raised as a secular Jew, has also been well-exposed to Protestant and Catholic tradition.
This is a book for anyone who is nurturing children and young people: parents, grandparents (aunts and uncles too), teachers, scout leaders, Sunday school teachers, education pundits, the designers of Common Core, school board members, and taxpayers who are supporting our public schools. In other words this is a book for those who are concerned about the development of a responsible citizenry.
The book is composed of chapters covering key features of character each illustrated by the biography of a well-known personality.
The Summoned Self (sense of vocation) - Frances Perkins first women Cabinet member Secretary of Labor during the FDR administration
Self-Conquest - Dwight David Eisenhower - General and President
Struggle - Dorothy Day - founder Catholic Worker Movement
Self-Mastery - George C. Marshall - General, Secretary of State
Dignity - A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin - Leaders in the Civil Rights Movement
Love - George Eliot - author
Ordered Love - Augustine of Hippo - Bishop and saint
Self-Examination - Samuel Johnson - Author and philosopher
The book concludes with chapter length overview of our society's move into the age of the "selfie', the shift from the communal, neighborhood, family centered being one of a group attitude to hat declares boldly, "Me first."
This is not the screed of the "Tiger Mother". This book calls back to reality; the reality that life naturally has hardships, disappointments, failures and pain as well as joy, relationship, achievement, fun and success. It reminds that part of nurturing children is to help them deal with the negative experiences. To try to deprive them of negative experiences is both impossible and at a same time a real disservice. The second great point is that we will always be part of a community - family, workplace, organization, church, neighborhood, country and the entire world. Therefore, from the very beginning, part of a child's default mechanism development has to be consideration of the consequences of individual acts on those with whom she shares a home, with whom he goes to school, with whom they create a democracy, with whom they share the planet.
This is assigned reading if you love kids.