It is both comforting and daunting to embrace the idea that “character” involves a journey. We have the ability and responsibility to develop our personal character. Based on this premise, David Brooks, the highly regarded New York Times pundit and author, has appropriately entitled his recent book, “The Road to Character.” The prime ingredient on the bumpy path, according to Brooks, is HUMILITY. Towards the end of this thought provoking book, he summarizes what he calls the “Humility Code.”
The Humility Code:
- Human beings seek a life of purpose, meaningfulness, righteousness, virtue and NOT just one of pleasure. Life is essentially a moral drama not a hedonistic one. Holiness is a more noble pursuit than happiness.
- The road to character begins with an accurate understanding of our nature and recognizing we are flawed creatures. We have a tendency to be self-centered and over confident. However, we are not the center of the universe.
- Although we are flawed creatures, we are splendidly endowed. We have been granted the capacity to take on the struggle of personal improvement.
- In this epic battle against our weaknesses, our greatest virtue is humility. However, we cannot do it alone and nor are we expected to.
- Pride blinds us to our weaknesses and makes us think we are better than we are. Pride drives us to prove that we are better than others and makes it hard to be vulnerable before those whose love we need.
- It doesn’t matter whether we work for a hedge fund or charity; there are heroes and schmucks in both worlds. The most important thing is our willingness to engage in the struggle for virtue. After attending to the basic necessities of living, this is our central purpose.
- Character is built in the course of confronting our own weaknesses. This involves much more than what others can see us do or hear us say. Constant small acts of caring, giving, and considerate, humble thinking creates the trend in our lives that results in habitual self discipline rather than remaining a slave to our weaknesses.
- People of character are capable of staying attached to a calling, purpose and people through the long run. The things that lead us astray, like fear, gluttony, and vanity are short run. Elements like courage, honesty, humility, (and I would add, self-accountability, respect, abundance…) take us on the long road. Humility also comes from the freedom in understanding that our commitment to these virtues cannot be completed in a lifetime.
- No one can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. If we are to progress in the confrontation with ourselves, we must be humble enough to put ourselves in a state to receive the affection of others. We have to draw outside of our selves to cope with the forces inside.
- Life for all of us is “U” shaped. We advance, retreat and so on. The redemption always comes in the form of “grace.” When admitting our failure, help comes in many different forms. When we recognize that you and I are unconditionally accepted and we accept what is, the path forward and accompanying gratitude usually arrives.
- Defeating our weaknesses includes the ability to quiet ourselves….to mute the sound of our own egos . Only by quieting ourselves will we be open to the external forces that are waiting to help us.
- The humble person accepts that experience is a better teacher than pure reason. Knowledge is not the same as wisdom. Wisdom is knowing how to behave when perfect knowledge is lacking.
- If we serve work that is intrinsically compelling and we strive to be excellent at that, we will likely serve both the community and ourselves. This is most often found by looking and understanding what the world is asking of our vocation and us. If we just try to serve ourselves we likely will never be satisfied. If we just try and serve the community, we may wonder if we’re ever appreciated enough. What problem is addressed or value provided by something you intrinsically enjoy? Serve that.
- The wise leader is a steward of her or his organization and tries to leave it in better condition than how she or he found it. A sound leader finds the right balance between competing values and goals.
- The individual who takes on the personal struggle to become a better human being may not become rich but will become mature. Maturity does not glitter. It is not about becoming better than anyone else or winning. The most important journey, what Brook describes as the “Road to Character,” is about becoming better today than you and I were yesterday.
- Reflecting on Brooks’ 15 elements of his Humility Code is probably daunting enough. The good news in all this, of course, is that we are all flawed and what Brooks describes as perpetual “stumblers.” The beauty and meaning in life is in the stumbling and becoming more graceful as we travel the character road.
- The paradox seems to involve taking ourselves out of being the center of everything while being much more personably accountable for being very centered. It is not all about us and yet at the same time, it is.