Every once in a while you come across people who make you feel better just for having encountered them.
As New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks puts it, “They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. … They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.”
Brooks drew inspiration from these kinds of encounters to write his latest book, “The Road to Character,” in which he assesses the state of character in our modern society. He borrows from the ideas of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik to help illustrate that we have two sides to us — an ambitious, résumé-building side focused on our achievements and status, and a more internal, altruistic side that embodies our moral qualities and our inner character.
In today’s world, we too often think of ourselves as the center of the universe, Brooks contends, thus focusing on getting ahead but failing to satisfy our inner being.
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Brooks delves into the lives of a number of historical figures to explore how developing character can serve as a compass for life. His subjects range from labor activist Frances Perkins, who turned tragedy into deep devotion, to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who overcame a quick temper to become a respected leader, to Christian thinker Augustine of Hippo, who abandoned selfish ambition in favor of true joy.
The people he profiles are far from perfect but each travels a path to true meaning in life. Their journeys are relatable, and by highlighting them Brooks challenges us to pay more attention to core virtues like kindness, bravery, honesty and faithfulness.
Bob Kustra is president of Boise State University and host of Reader’s Corner, a weekly radio show on Boise State Public Radio. Reader’s Corner airs Fridays at 6 p.m. and repeats Sundays at 11 a.m. on KBSX 91.5 FM. An interview with Brooks airs today. Listen to previous shows at http://boisestatepublicradio.org/programs/readers-corner, or download the free app from the iTunes App Store or Google Play to listen anytime.
Hear Brooks speak
David Brooks, the author of three books, has written about politics and social issues for The New York Times since 2003, and is a regular commentator on “PBS NewsHour,” NPR’s “All Things Considered” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He is encouraging a national conversation on character and is speaking this week in Boise as part of Boise State’s Distinguised Lecture Series.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27 (Doors open at 6:30 p.m.)
Where: The Morrison Center, 2201 W. Cesar Chavez Lane
Cost: Free (no tickets required)
“The Road to Character” also is Boise State’s 2016-17 Campus Read book and will help guide the university through discussions this academic year about character and civility.