Posted in Life, Quotes

The Road to Character

I find it amazing when a book that I see in the airport is actually a book that I think has substance. I found “The Road to Character” by David Brooks,  a great book to read. I learned about interesting people and how they found their strength to do in the world. David Brooks, gave a great summary of “The Lonely Man of Faith”. The characters that he brought are not only men, but also women who created great change in the world. Here are some quotes that I found especially meaningful while reading.

pg. xi-xii

Modernizing Soloveitchik’s categories a bit, we could say that Adam I is the career-oriented, ambitious side of our nature. Adam I is the external, resume Adam. Adam I wants to build, create, produce and discover things. He wants to have high status and win victories.

Adam II is the internal Adam. Adam II wants to have a serene inner character, a quiet but solid sense of right and wrong- not only to do good, but to be good. Adam II wants to love intimately, to sacrifice self in the service of others, to live in obedience to some transcendent truth, to have a cohesive inner soul that honors creation and one’s own possibilities.

While Adam I wants to conquer the world, Adam II wants to obey a calling to serve the world. While Adam II wants to obey a calling to serve the world. While Adam I is creative and savors his own accomplishments, Adam II sometimes renounces worldly success and status for the sake of some sacred purpose. While Adam I asks how things work, Adam II asks why things exist, and what ultimately we are here for. While Adam I wants to venture forth, Adam II wants to return to his roots and savor the warmth of a family meal. While Adam I’s motto is “Success,” Adam II experience life as a moral drama. His motto is “Charity, love, and redemption.”

Soloveitchik argued that we live in the contradiction between these two Adams. The outer, majestic Adam and the inner, humble Adam are not fully reconcilable. We are forever caution in self-confrontation. We are called to fulfill both personae, and must master the art of living forever within the tension between these two natures.

The hard part of this confrontation, I’d add, is that Adams I and II live by different logic. Adam I- the creating, building, and discovering Adam- lives by a straightforward utilitarian logic. It’s the logic of economics. Input leads to output. Effort leads to reward. Practices makes perfect. Pursue self-interest. Maximize your utility. Impress the world.

Adam II lives by an inverse logic. It’s moral logic, not an economic one. You have to give to receive. You have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself. You have to conquer your desire to get what you crave. Success leads to the greatest failure, which is pride. Failure leads to the greater success, which is humility and learning. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.

To nurture your Adam I career, it makes sense to cultivate your strengths. To nurture your Adam II moral core, it is necessary to confront your weakness.

pg. 23

Life…”ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets before the individual.”

pg. 24

Frankl, like Perkins, had a vocation, a vocation is not a career. A person choosing a career looks for job opportunities and room for advancement. A person choosing a career is looking for something that will provide financial and psychological benefits. If your job or career isn’t working for you, you choose a different one.

A person does not choose a vocation. A vocation is a calling. People generally feel like they have no choice in the matter. Their life would be unrecognizable unless they pursued this line of activity.

Pg. 34

Perkins kept a folder titled “Notes on the Male Mind” and recorded this episode in it. It played a major role in her political education: “I learned from this that the way men take women in political life is to associate them with motherhood. They know and respect their mothers — 99 percent of them do. It’s primitive and primary attitude. I said to myself, ‘That’s the way to get things done. So behave, dress, and so comport yourself that you remind them subconsciously of their mothers.’

Pg. 46-47

As Reinhold Neibuhr put it in 1952:

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from out standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.

Pg. 63 (Eisenhower’s pick me-up poem)

Take a bucket, fill it with water,

Put your hand in–clear up to the wrist.

Now pull it out; the hole that remains

Is a measure of how much you’ll be missed…

The moral of this quaint example:

To do just the best that you can,

Be proud of yourself, but remember,

There is no Indispensable Man!

Pg. 78 Thoughts by Dorothy Day on living in New York – which very well could be my own, just written much nicer.

In all that great city of seven millions, I found no friends; I had no work, I was separated from my fellows. Silence in the midst of city noises oppressed me. My own silence, the feeling that I had no one to talk to overwhelmed me so that my very throat was constricted; my heart was heavy with unuttered thoughts; I wanted to weep my loneliness away.

Pg. 168 Some more ideas that seem too true to my life right now.

Mary Anne [Evens, ie. George Elliot], for her part, was also lonely, but maturing. She wrote to Cara Bray, “My troubles are purely psychical – self dissatisfaction and despair of achieving anything worth doing.” In her journal she embraced the sentiment that was first written by the feminist author Margeret Fuller: ‘I shall always reign through the intellect, but the life! The life! O my god! Shall that never be sweet?’

Pg. 170 On Love

Love is like an invading army that reminds you that you are not master of your own house. It conquers you little by little, reorganizing your energy levels, reorganizing your sleep patterns, reorganizing your conversational topics, and, toward the end of the process, rearranging the objects of your sexual desire and event he focus of your attention. When you are in love, you can’t stop thinking about your beloved. You walk through a crowd and think you see her in a vaguely familiar form every few yards. You flight from highs to lows and feel pain at the slights and you know are probably trivial or illusory. Love is the strongest kind of army because it generates no resistance. When the invasion is only half complete, the person being invaded longs to be defeated, fearfully, but utterly and hopelessly.

Love is a surrender. You expose your deepest vulnerabilities and give up your illusions of self-mastery. This vulnerability and the desire for support can manifest itself in small ways. Eliot once wrote, “There is something strangely winning to most women in that offer of the firm arm; the help is not wanted physically at the moment, but the sense of help, the presence of strength that is outside them and yet theirs, meets a continual want of imagination.”

Pg. 197

Lewis Smedes, expressing an Augustinian thought, describes the mottled nature of our inner world:

‘Our inner lives are not partitioned like day and night, with pure light on one side of us and total darkness on the other. Mostly, our souls are shadowed places; we live at the border where our dark sides block our light and throw a shadow over our interior places…We cannot always tell where our light ends and our shadow begins or where our shadow ends and our darkness begins.’

Pg. 206

Paul Tillich puts it this way in his collection of essays, Shaking the Foundations:

‘Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life… It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at the moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.’ If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.’

Pg. 266

No good life is possible unless it is organized around a vocation. If you try to use your work to serve yourself, you’ll find your ambitions and expectations will forever run ahead and you’ll never be satisfied. If you try to serve the community, you’ll always wonder if people appreciate you enough. But if you serve work that is intrinsically compelling and focus just on being excellent at that, you will wind up serving yourself and the community obliquely. A vocation is not found by looking within and finding your passion. It is found by looking without and asking what life is asking of us. What problem is addressed by an activity you intrinsically enjoy?

 

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Author:

I am prone to overthinking and not to sharing. I decided to start writing and see what happens. So here are some stories and life situations (sometimes words of Torah) of a 30 something single woman, who happens to be a rabbi (received ordination in 2017- so there are posts of what that experience was like), will be working as a chaplain (and worked for years with older adults), is regularly asked what city she is located in (started the blog while living in Israel, found herself working in Australia, and will be in New York for at least a year), and is just trying to figure out her place in the world.

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