The other day I read David Brook’s most recent op-ed column for the New York Times and it’s been on my mind ever since. Titled “The Moral Bucket List” it’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek nod to the backlash traditional buckets lists were getting last year, wherein the pursuit becomes more about the accomplishment rather than the experience. That is, are we focusing too much on checking off items on a list instead of truly enjoying a momentous occasion, or more simply laughing at one’s tremendous good fortune? That alone is enough food for thought for one day.
But, Brooks’ article brings up some useful and relevant ideas that I want to mull over with you. Brooks suggests that he’d like to be more like people who radiate an inner light and goodness, people who have generosity of spirit and immense depth of character. To do this, to achieve a higher state of humility and generosity, Brooks proposes we seek to achieve a set of accomplishments on a moral bucket list. Without one he finds, “Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.”
We should embody humility: “But all the people I’ve ever deeply admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses…They have achieved a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.”
Self-defeat: “character is built during the confrontation with your own weakness.”
A moderate dependency on others: “people on the road to character understand that no person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. Individual will, reason and compassion are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride and self-deception. We all need redemptive assistance from outside.”
Energizing love: “That kind of love decenters the self. It reminds you that your true riches are in another. Most of all, this love electrifies.”
A calling: “some people have experiences that turn a career into a calling. These experiences quiet the self. All that matters is living up to the standard of excellence inherent in their craft.”
A conscience leap: “[These people] leap out beyond the utilitarian logic and crash through the barriers of their fears.”
While making a case for living a life fueled by morality, Brooks writes, “The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative. They are not really living for happiness, as it is conventionally defined. They see life as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.”
It’s a thought-provoking piece about purpose and strength of character. Who do you want to be? Who do you want to serve? What do you mean to yourself? Others?
I would love my life to be full of compassion and love and gratitude and “other-centeredness”. What about you?
(Image of “The Kiss” by Saul Steinberg, 1959)