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Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.

An inspirational Curmudgeon

The Road to Character - David Brooks

An interesting and thought-provoking, although flawed, exploration on what character means, and how one acquires it. Brooks writes spiritually biographical essays on Barbara Perkins, Dorothy Day, General Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Samuel Johnson, George Elliot and St. Augustine, people he feels exemplify the virtues of humility, service to others, spiritual struggle (read: the struggle against sin), rectitude and moral courage in a way that no contemporary apparently does. He presents these as long-lost, old-fashioned virtues, and spends a good deal of time admonishing us against the ills of the "me-generation", social media and soulless accomplishment. There's much to admire and to be inspired by in these pages. He paints wrestling for character as an attractive, and ennobling activity, if not comfortable a comfortable one, and one can't argue with that.


Brooks' scholarship is as broad as one would expect from someone with his credentials and it serves the work well. My discomfort came with his repeated insistence that one not trust one's inner voice, which, if I'm reading him correctly, he seems to equate with an immature, self-serving ego. However, he forgets that St. Ignatius of Loyola posited that one of the ways one makes contact with God, and discerns God's will, is through the Examen of Consciousness -- in essence a way of listening to the God-connected wisdom of one's soul. Brooks takes an 'either/or' position, rather than an 'and' position, which is off-putting and unfortunate. One can both devote one's life to serving the world, and to responding to what the world asks of one, as well as cultivating a healthy, indeed, deeply nourishing, relationship with one's intuition, or soul, as communicated through the senses, through dreams, and through intuitive knowing. John O'Donoghue has done wonderful work on this and I would be interested to know what Brooks might make of that. It felt like a gap in his knowledge-base.


As well, I think there are a number of more modern examples, such as Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Jean Vanier... that Brooks might have chosen to focus on. Doing so would have illustrated that God (you'll forgive the word if you find it too fraught, feel free to replace it with whatever you're more comfortable with) remains ever faithful to us.


The book reads with more of a curmudgeonly tone -- like one's well-educated uncle scolding the younger generation with all their flippery and narcissism -- than I suspect he intended, and it may put off readers. I hope it doesn't, because there is, as I said, much to be admired here, much to spark self-examination, and much to inspire.