A Moral Bucket List

In America, we sure know how to do “success.” A quick search for books on Amazon.com yields more than 100,000 books with titles containing the word, indicating that the marketplace for selling success is deep and wide in our world.

Thanks to these books we know what a successful life looks like: an admirable career, a burnished reputation, the ability to “get what you want,” popularity and prosperity.

And yet.

“People on the road to character understand that no person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own...We all need redemptive assistance from outside.

This is perhaps not a complete set of virtues. What about our “eulogy virtues?”

Author David Brooks proposes, in his book “The Road to Character,” and in this related essay published in The New York Times, that this is not a complete set of virtues. And that by our collective cultural focus on the markers of individual success, “the deepest parts of ourselves go unexplored and unstructured.”

“It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues,” he writes, “the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?”

In the Times essay, he calls out a subset of the qualities he believes create deep character, that not only play a part in making someone “a person who radiates an inner light,” who seems “deeply good,” as he writes, but also a person who has a deep sense of internal value—as opposed to a deep sense of external success.

Here, a few tidbits of the markers Brooks believes create such character:

In a nutshell, Brooks says, “The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be. Unexpectedly, there are transcendent moments of deep tranquility” and, "Confronting your own weakness, taking a deep look at your constant internal sin—whether it be vanity, impatience, people-pleasing—and working to transcend it."

“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.”

Fortunately, becoming who we are meant to be is a life’s work, and there’s always time to work on it—until there isn’t.

Click here to read the rest of his list of character traits we all would be proud to have called out at our own wordly send-offs. Or view this short TED talk Brooks delivered on the same topic.