The importance of a moral struggle against yourself

David Brooks is one of my preferred writers. I’m currently reading his new book, The Road To Character, which chronicles his attempt to cultivate a deeper character, mostly by looking into what he calls “eulogy virtues”, the stuff you want your loved ones to say about you when you cark it, as opposed to your CV virtues.

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Brooks has fraud syndrome. He is so self-aware that his humanity repulses him. This tendency seems to go hand-in-hand with having an overactive mind, don’t you find? And so it is that he finds himself shallow. And in need of a deeper character.

“I have to work harder than most people to avoid a life of smug superficiality,” he writes.

I’ll report back on the book’s worth shortly. Meantime, I’m intrigued by this initial thought bomb that he throws:

“It doesn’t matter if you work on Wall Street or at a charity distributing medicine to the poor. The most important thing is whether you are willing to engage in moral struggle against yourself.”

I agree. The most pious person can merely go through the motions of “being good”. It can be “surface good” only. Conversely, a financier can go home and take very good hard looks at herself each night and radiate her “give-a-shitness” to colleagues and friends each day. It’s this giving a shit and delving deep that propels us forward and connects and inspires betterment all around. Regardless of the environs.

Moral struggle exposes truth. Moral struggle radiates and spreads and provides a stable pivot point from which so much of life can launch from. Which is ironic, because anyone who struggles with themselves will so often feel uncertain.

I’m coming to realize, however, that the truth and vulnerability that emerges from this moral struggle is the most certain thing we can offer the planet right now.

Are you able to see your moral struggle with yourself in this way?

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