Wouldn’t it be great if Washington’s power brokers committed themselves to something beyond themselves? Actually, wouldn’t it be great if we all did?
Since 2005, Washington’s movers and shakers have gathered in Aspen, Colorado, for the “Aspen Ideas Festival.” Co-sponsored by the Aspen Institute and Atlantic Monthly magazine, the purpose of the festival is to “engage in deep and inquisitive discussion of the ideas and issues that both shape our lives and challenge our times.”
At least one talk at the festival—delivered by New York Times columnist and Chuck Colson favorite David Brooks—lived up to the festival’s stated purpose.
As recounted in an Atlantic Monthly article by Uri Friedman, Brooks contrasted two sets of virtues: “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.”
Resume virtues are oriented toward “accumulating power, wealth, and professional achievements.” Eulogy virtues are “the kinds of qualities that will be discussed at our funerals.”
Brooks’ goal is to create a “counterculture” to our resume culture. In his words, we should strive to become “deep.”
How? It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the language Brooks used was, as the Atlantic Monthly put it, “religiously inflected.” He told his audience that “the things that lead you astray,” such as lust, fear, vanity, [and] gluttony, are “fast,” they are the fulfillment of momentary and passing desires.
In contrast, “the things that we admire most—honesty, humility, self-control, courage—those things take some time and they accumulate slowly.”
What Brooks is referring to, of course, are the virtues, both the classical and Christian ones.
And when Brooks spoke of the virtue of “love” he referred to its unconditional and transformational qualities. Love worthy of the name humbles us and “de-centers the self.”
A great deal of Brooks’ thinking about “going deep” focuses on suffering. He said, “When people look forward . . .they say, ‘How can I plan . . . [to] make [myself] happy?’ . . . But when people look backward at the things that made them who they are, they usually don’t talk about moments when they were happy. They usually talk about moments of suffering or healing. So we plan for happiness, but we’re formed by suffering.”
I think Jesus would agree.
Other elements in the journey toward virtue Brooks cited were the “internal struggle” against our weaknesses, and “acceptance,” which he likens to the Christian idea of grace.
Against “the whole ethos of self-cultivation” with its relentless “scrambling, working, [and] climbing,” Brooks says a deep person seeks “unmerited, unearned admittance” to “some sort of human transcendent community.” The deep person accepts the fact that he’s accepted and is grateful for it.
Of course, the Christian would ask “accepted by whom?” Brooks’ example, the Catholic writer and activist Dorothy Day, would have answered “by Christ.”
Still, as the Atlantic put it, Brooks’ ideas “invert the reigning culture of self-help” in American culture. Instead of talking about taking control of our lives, Brooks is asking his listeners to surrender, at least in part, control over their lives to something bigger and better than themselves.
And that’s a message we should all hope the “movers and shakers” in Washington would take to heart.
It should also challenge us Christians to do a little self-examination. Are we busy building our resumes? Or are we building our character in Christ?
Because the journey to true depth is not complete until we completely surrender to the One who already knows us better than we know ourselves.
Building Your Resume, or Your Character?: Going Deep with David Brooks
As Eric shared, it’s important that we build character, and not just a resume. Click here to read the Atlantic Monthly article about David Brooks’ talk. And to equip you in your pursuit of virtue and a Christ-like character, pick up a copy of the Doing the Right Thing DVD series from our online bookstore.
David Brooks’s 5-Step Guide to Being Deep
Uri Friedman | The Atlantic | July 1, 2014
The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life
Os Guinness | W Publishing Group | October 2003
Doing the Right Thing, DVD and study guide
Chuck Colson, Robert George | ColsonCenter.org