Weakness and Character

brooksI read David Brooks’s new book, just released in April. I like how he describes himself (and consequently the impetus for his project) in the following passage:

I have lived a life of vague moral aspiration–vaguely wanting to be good, vaguely wanting to serve some larger purpose, while lacking a concrete moral vocabulary, a clear understanding of how to live a rich inner life, or even a clear knowledge of how character is developed and depth is achieved. (xiv)

I also like how he describes people he admires:

Occasionally, even today, you come across certain people who seem to possess an impressive inner cohesion. They are not leading fragmented, scattershot lives. They have achieved inner integration. They are calm, settled, and rooted. They are not blown off course by storms. They don’t crumble in adversity. Their minds are consistent and their hearts are dependable. Their virtues are not blooming virtues you see in smart college students; they are the ripening virtues you see in people who have lived a little and have learned from joy and pain. (xvi)

In the section on Frances Perkins, I’m also struck by Brooks’s discussion of her education:

Today, teachers tend to look for their students’ intellectual strengths, so they can cultivate them. But a century ago, professors tended to look for their students’ moral weaknesses, so they could correct them. (28)

Holyoke took Perkins, who had been taught, because of her sex and because of her stature, to think lowly of herself, and it persuaded her and the other women that she could do something heroic. But it achieved this task in an ironic way. It didn’t tell her that she was awesome and qualified for heroism. It forced her to confront her natural weaknesses. It pushed her down. It pushed her down and then taught her to push herself upward and outward. (30)

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