The Road to Character

Written by David Brooks



I am glad that I read this book.  I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I finished it.  But I have to admit that it made me feel pretty dumb by the time I finished.  Right on the cover is a review from The New York Times Book Review that says this book is a “hyper-readable, lucid, often richly detailed human story.”  And I struggled with it a bit.

When I finished, I was left with a general sense of confusion.  On the one hand, Brooks seems to make the argument that trying to become a better person is an internal struggle between the earthly and the spiritual.  but then, on the other, he says that we can’t be trusted to define character because our value system is wonky.  It made me want to throw up my hands in surrender.  Here I struggled through the individual stories that supposedly illustrated the epitome of the “Humility Code”, and still didn’t really understand what or how to change.  It was hard for me to understand what character traits are desirable and which are not.  It’s still driving me crazy.

But there are moments throughout that book that are eye-opening.  And some that are simply brilliant or therapeutic.  One passage in particular made the entire thing worth reading (and it is not the only like it):

“God has already justified your existence.  You may have the feeling that you are on trial in this life, that you have to work and achieve and make your mark to earn a good verdict…the trial is already over.  The verdict came in before you even began your presentation.  That’s because Jesus stood trial for you.  He took the condemnation that you deserve.”

I realize that the references to God and spirituality in this book will turn people off.  But it’s a fundamental concept in this book.  The idea is not to be the best person that this life and this culture dictates, but to do what we’re called to do by a higher power.  There was something so liberating about the chapter that contained that quote.  Perhaps it was the idea that, as they used to say in the television show Touched by an Angel, “God loves you.” No matter what.

I hope you find it as meaningful as I did.