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David Brooks: The Road to Character

2017-11-20 | 🔗

New York Times columnist, political pundit and bestselling author David Brooks reveals how we can discover and build a stronger, more meaningful moral character and deeper inner life. David shares his personal and well-researched path on the road to “save his own soul.” He takes listeners on a journey through history, sharing examples of people who cultivated their own character with self-sacrifice and honor. David also shares his thoughts on vulnerability, the importance of believing in yourself and gaining strength from those around you.

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
I'm over Winfrey welcome to supersede conversations the podcast. I believe that one of the most valuable gives you can give yourself is time taking time to be more fully present. Your journey to become more inspired and connected to the deeper world around us starts right now, I'm talking with the author of the best selling book, the road to Character New York Times columnist, David Brooks in his columns for the New York Times and as a political pendant on television. David books is known for his conservative opinions. The road to character is a surprisingly candid look into davits personal,
Ernie searching for his own set of values and the path to deepening his soul. As I read his book, I knew I wanted to have a super so conversation with David about the essence and deeper meaning of character. I think is so fascinating that you are considered one of the pre eminent political pundits literally in the country and respected and admired, and yet you who opened the book in your intro right there on page eight, you write this. I wrote it this book to be honest, save my own soul. I was born with, actual disposition toward shallowness. I now is abundant and columnist on pay to be a narcissistic blowhard. I thought is so great that you know that's what you are paid to do, two volley my opinions to appear more confident about them. Then I really am to appear smarter than I really am to appear better and more of them
I believe that I really am. I have to work harder than most people to avoid a life of smug, superficiality. Bravo to you. Least having that level of self awareness, Why did you write a book to save your own soul? I think all books, you should try and those are the sentences. My friends think are the truest sense and it wasn't like I was having a mid life crisis, but I would have experiences red meat people, for example, when it took place for Frederick Maryland, and I met some women. They are probably aged fifteen eighty and they taught immigrants, English and then how to read and that process can take years and so I welcome a room. Would like thirty of them and immediately you your hit by irradiating, radiating, wave of just goodness and patience and simplicity, and they didn't know me from animal they treat me like. I was valuable,
and so immediately I just saw they raided in her light. I just had a light and a joyousness of gratitude about life, and so I thought I vacuumed weigh more in my career than I've ever. I never thought I would, but we see that in the light I haven't achieved, that like how'd, you get that, and so I thought you might the only around once a life muzzle treading at that though I wanted to know examples of people who, like a twenty, there were didn't, have it by seventy. They had at their marvelous, and so I just want to know how that done, and so that that is the road to characterise our interest. To me that you're in the car you listening to a radio forecast and
had a coat and aha moment. Tell me about some driving home and I heard a show called command performance, which was a variety show. The ones in the troops were to all the big stars when Frank Sinatra, Dean, one but being Crosbie. Those- and I happened to hear the one broadcast live on Fiji Day just after they were in the end, they won the war against Japan just hours after and so being Crosbie gets out there and he says we ve just learn this when we won this war, we're just so glad. We should just be humble and be glad we got through it yet God for it. I was struck. There could have been a moment, a big chest something, but it was a moment of beautiful humility and modesty and legislators beautiful. Then I go in them, when I turn tv and Watch football game and the quarterback throws a pastoral wide receiver catches it and its tack laughter to your gain in the defence of where does what all professional athletes do after moments of
supreme personal shaman does a big dance and out of himself yeah and the Kurds, who had seen a bigger self puffing victory dance after two yard gain. Then I heard a winning one or two, and so that symbolise to me a shift in culture, yes from a culture of sulphur face meant that says, I'm no better than anybody else, but always better than me to a culture of achievement or distinctions is look at me. Look what I've done yes, and now we just come to expect it. We become a celsius Duration, actually, now you know I was on a plane the other day and there was a young one sitting next to me and she was like eighteen and she had vines which are little short videos on her home and she was watching herself and for two hours. She was different rise of herself doing different expressions, it's her fastening by her sitting there watching herself, and I feel I have a book-
iterating. Why virtually the statistic I quote in the book is in the in the nineteen. Fifty is a bunch of researchers asked Highschool sophomores, that's right. Are you a very important person and back then, twelve percent? the US and they ve, asked a question and idealism: two, thousands, if not twelve percent, who say I'm very important its eighty percent. Yes- and that seems, is that same survey about people who want to be famous and so fame used very on the bottom, like of what didn t not a six year, and now it's usually two or three people really we famous and of its reality tv or selfie culture, but people who want to be famous. So what has the shift to the fame culture? done to our souls. What is the point we pay for our souls and dark character. Thinking really begins with this distinction between two sets of virtues would hold a resume virtues in the eulogy virtues and the rest of my virtues of the things that makes a good at our jobs of eulogy, virtues of things they say about us after we're dead,
on a stray just brave, capable of great love. And we all know the eulogy virtues are better more important one of your memory first things. But a lot of us include for many years, more clear about how to have a great career than have great great character, we just spent you're in a competitive world to spend our time there. You don't have time to think about eulogy world. How, then David, do you define character? What is this thing that we are missing will sadly, has become an old fashioned for the word, but to me there's a central pieces, That makes decisions and every time you make a decision or have an experience. You turn that core piece of yourself into something slightly more elevated or something more degraded, and if you make discipline choices, you silly engrave, a certain said, a habits and dispositions inside that core peace. If you meet fragmented decisions, you make that, where peace little degraded
look at people with character, but they have is consistency over time. Things that make us sleet us astray or short term like lustre reader hunger, but the things that are character are long term like honesty and courage, and so those people are just able to be consistent and can be counted on over time because they have something solid and grave. The people I read about they were all great. Publish people, those women in France's Perkins who was sexually labour, the first woman in the? U, as an eminent Dwight, Eisenhower's press United States, but they had self awareness and they had a level of humility to me. You melody is not thinking low leave yourself. It's accurate self awareness from a distance, its being able to step outside, say Hammerless wrong here, but also I'm kind here. Yeah, you have a theory. That over generations who talk about this on the road to character that
We are a kind of moving away from humility and a moral core. Why do you think this shift happen? Awhile for small island? I wouldn't want to go back to the past. We were like one races, culture sexist, but there I do think they had a little better sense of a small self as opposed to a big so and I think we moved away part because we are more competitive culture, so you just gotta spinoffs unbranded yourself, Markham yourself to get jobs and stuff don't colleges. Second, we have social technology, we're trying to get likes you trying to get attention everyone's in a war for attention. I am now- and you know it's all looking for that feed back how many friends on Facebook, how many and swim followers it's the competition for eyeballs. That is in fact, like everything you say: I've got the kindled the noise of fast and shallow communications makes it harder to hear
you're. The quieter sounds that emanate from the depths. You know and you say that so with such articulation, when that's really We all are feeling we all feel exact, that we live in a culture that teaches us to promote an apple ties ourselves and to master the skills required for success, but that is little encouragement to humility, sympathy and honest self conference, taken which are necessary for building character I find had. He should be proud of that sentence. Thank you. I cure her, for she had even focus your attention My attention span. Sometimes I feel it shot. It's like every few seconds and drifting off to another thing on the phone and checking my phone and if you can't focused attention for a long time, you can't come at anything and he can't really explore beneath the surface. Until all of this is good. Created Gaeta, which is basically with a book, is about a more shall
in self centered society. Yeah that you call this the big major danish and I think it's just the mainstream culture. Any waved create little camera cultures to swim, yeah. I love it on page to fifty eight. Actually, you quote a fast Having studied that proves this theory of even our language has become more self centered going talk about it. I never thought about that that yeah, so Google, you can take all these big searches and you look at all that are used in magazines and newspapers and books in any given year, and you can sharp what words were using more and what words were using less of, and so we were talking more about economics, so economic word, usages up the talking a lot less about community and morality, and so words like kindness, humbleness, gratitude, honor. Those words are dropping overpass generation by fifty percent. Fifty or sixty percent each year were just talking about the scaffold yeah and his words: cussing kids, and in their Harvard survey, when
whether or not their their parents would want them to be high achievers. There's a Harvard school Education survey, Mass ten thousand junior high school students, what your parents care more about, that you get good grades or that your kind and eighty percent of them said my pants care more Getting good grades? That's a message. We end up son. I think that's a really good hit the pause button for life parents who are listening to us right now and I recall being somebody recently and I was really struck. When I said og, you have really your children seem to be so well behaved so level and mother said yes, my daughters are very kind whew, that's a sign of somebody who were very,
of aware yeah, we're trying to raise children herself aware and the course the way which he said is not measured by talking about it, but by demonstrating induced by living it out, and they observed in his best selling, put the road to character. David Brooks tells the life stories of ten historical figures, each of whom followed their own difficult and sometimes imperfect road to character. People like Dorothy Day, we ve been called the saint for our time, born in eighteen. Ninety seven Dorothy Day CALL created the catholic worker. It's a newspaper, as well as the social movement. Today, the organization promote religious teachings and service for those in need. You talk about the people in the book the people who you admire and cultivated their stories, who started out being one place and then ended up developing character over the years, some of them the ones I fell in love with her
women and Dorothy Day who, in her twenties, she was really ass. She was drinking divorce suicide abortions. Her pivotal moment was giving birth to her daughter, and she had noticed that all the accounts of childbearing have been written by guys, and so she said, do not going write one and she sits down like forty minutes after delivering and she writes an essay. What it felt like and its some of the violent seven, but then, in the end she writes. If I had compose the greatest symphony written the greatest novel or sculptor, the greatest sculpture, I could not have felt the more exalted greater than I did when they placed my child. My arms, I felt such floods of love and joy that moment and with that came in to worship and to adore literature, is given this great gift, her daughter, she said who do I thank for this, and she wanted to worship somebody and social events. They became a catholic unchanged, started soup kitchen. She said radically
paper homeless, shelters and you spend the next fifty years or life living there, not just serving but living, whether in the homeless, shelters, sacrificing our privacy hang yourself, no income and the life which a service. The rest of her life, but so incredible how having that child actually opened up the heart space for her in a way that she could see, God actually was focused on you open up how our ground is like a plough that opens up programmes, love and happiness. Interesting and I know you write about April. Around of a Randolph was an early pioneer in the civil rights movement. He was a union organizer who helped convince President
issue. An executive order banning racial segregation in the military by nineteen. Sixty three April Randolph stood with Martin Luther King Jr to help organise the March on Washington. He's a man of you know he was Insurrectos S. There were designed to Malaysia because racism, he would not be emulated, he was dignified and he found his Eric tear through his dignity, so he was early life. You want to be a shakespearian, accurate, a great voice, and I see the end of his life. His wife was ill and every day would read an hour Shakespeare to her, which has a nice thing to do. He would sit up right. This diction was very perfect, is worth choices were perfect, and so you could try to do what you would do him, but he would not. He would not bend. He was gonna, be dignified, an irreproachable and he was a man of great firmness and character, even others round him were trying to destroy him, but he just
Yeah and obviously I was touched by the story being African American and it's the thing that I so wish I generation it passed on to the of coming generations, because I think when you, Stan where you ve? from when you understand your history, when you understand that they were, you know hundreds of thousands of millions of people like April a brand off who, in the face of so brazen indignities every day, stood inside themselves and stood up for themselves and stood up to that I mean just the gist of the definition of building character. Is his dead was an Amy preacher. In Florida he taught a fella brand, the the hit radios raft american history, and then you the sign, a proud legacy
leave it out now you say that we should all have a humility code, so yeah thought. So I thought we talked about this culture. The big me- and I think, that's a coded, says deep down, I'm really special inside and if you allow the commencement addresses its trust yourself, be yourself especially especial, but the people I think I'll break out. You don't believe that they believe were divided, that we have parts were splendidly endowed by parts were deeply broken and we have sins and they allow the people would look at themselves and say: what's my Courson yeah yeah t write about our consent, so we all have core sense. We struggle with whether its vanity ego selfishness of tenderness, whenever it is, and then they asked where. What is that behaviour does that led to that? I am not proud of, and you can work work on it. They confront themselves. So is that why we're here to work on our course since
Do you think the reason for us being here is why what we are doing a lot of us humans? I think we all have moral imagination. We want a motley the leftist of good experiences with life, a meaning and were willing to give up some happiness, some holiness, whether religious or not. You know people willing to endorse suffering for something that really believe in, and I found that's true among the richest and among the poorest, everybody wants to have a life that where they say my life has meant something, and it's been a good life and I've gotten better as are fulfilled myself a little more as I got older, and so you know we spend a lot of time and are constantly what happiness, but if you're defining happiness just have a good experiences. I don't think that's enough. If you ask anybody, what's the activity that you had that media, who you are no one says
You know I had a really great rotation, Hawaii. No one says that they say I had heard a struggle. I lost a loved one. I was in the army, something in that period of struggle or that prove toughness made me who I am and quite often, though, it is also some when you are extending yourself in kind disgrace, He asked to learn to somebody else. Do compassion or empathy, and so often those things are connected, that you see people suffering and then they turn their suffering to service and so ever a greek quota there. I like saying I'm till it who said that what suffering does is it takes us blow, be everydayness of life yet and reminds us we're not who we think we are it Carswell Beneath. What we thought was the basement of the soul and cars through the floor and reveals a cavity below so really introduces a source of when you're in those moments were suffering, because you empathy
because you sympathise with the others, but then you want to turn that that moment into a story that will lead to service. You also, I like it in the book. When you talk about how every one of us is in need of some kind of redemptive assistance. What does that mean? So we are used to think that to get character. You worked on yourself who, but then I came to the conclusion that no one has the power to defeat the power of selfishness and self deception were sort aligned each other all the time, so we all need assistance from outside and for religious people, its assistance from God from everybody, its assistance from friends. I had a friend who she was the daughter, and one thing she told me was that the people who are close to her, some of them didn't show up in the moment of grief
but there were people who should barely knew who showed up. They came from far away and they showed up and when you are getting that love from a person who barely now that's unmerited, love. That's grace, that's your lying on something you don't deserve, but is being given to you. So much as a book focuses on love. You have a theory about what happens to our soul when we experience love. What is there a way? I do think it is the opening, within its also the the
vision you refuse with another, and so somebody maintain this french writer said when your love, it eliminates the distinction between giving and receiving. When you give to the person, you love your giving to a piece of yourself, so it's actually more funding given to receive. So that's about that fusion. I feel so good a yet does feel like. That's why you wanna do that's like giving it will you really give it from you to your place, is just like you got, it is, as is good, is getting yeah, and you can. I mean it's actually a good measure of people and not to the visit picking up the right gift. It's really hard skilled work, it takes empathy, viability, adventure, it also ex paying attention David, the extra they always people always give close. They do that. You weren't always give you consider. This is wonderful. In the color purple the book Alice Walker wrote now, so I think it stayed in the movie and the play.
But God loves most is appreciation! That's why God get pissed. If you don't notice the color purple, it's also true what people love most is appreciation that founded and so over the years, particularly for men in our audiences out. I would say if you can sit down and honestly come up with your top ten reasons. You care for somebody using specific things, not generalities but specific. That there is no better gift them that and you can do it regularly. We end in so it doesn't matter what you buy or what you find. If you can generally, do your own top ten list for somebody. It's amazing and I have all these girls from South Africa and I tell them missing mama. What can we give you when you get your words matter? you're real appreciation matters. I love it in the way you talk it, but we should rank our loves and highs and lows. Tell me what that does that's a concept from this, Logan Custom and he- and he said what is sin, and so when we
so now we only use the word in the context of fattening desserts, but in traditional morality, it's a sense that we have something broken and I don't like the word send when it's meant to just wear, dark and depraved inside, but he had a beautiful formulation, He said we soon when we have our loves out of order- and I remember This is good sort down a match, that's a terrible moment right there for us and wants to be treated yes. All right. Then, when we have our loves out of order, yet we all have a lot of things. We love family of money. You have a little affection stand. Truth, and we all know that some lives are higher. We know that I love a family is higher than our love of money or love of truth should be Heartland. I love money and, if you're lying to get money for putting a Luvs out of order,
so sometimes we just by some nature. We get him out of order. So, for example, if a friend tells you a secret and you Blair, but at a dinner party, you're putting your lover popularity above your love of friendship- and we know that's wrong, that's again order and so its useful justice it down. So what are we love? Other things I really love and one or two I love him. Am I spend time some spending time on my highest love or my speaking time on a lower love? That's good! Really! Good David! I been vigour. This is really good and am am I spending time on my highest love or retention, your energy or that's here that that questions gonna resonate really deeply with people in a way
because I got it- I felt it so tell me what is for you the difference between spirituality and religion. So spirituality to me is an awareness of the transcendent unaware, but there's something beyond the material world, and you, Michael nature. My called the wonders of being what you might call it God, or sometimes I feel it in history. I go back to historic place and somehow I feel a connection and mystical connection with those were dead, Lincoln, called it the Mr Courts and religion, is more fine theology and it's God with specific message.
Which is embedded in Bible or the Koran or some other book, and so I think spirituality is a piece of religion, but religion is more specific codes and I observe people sometimes ass. We do actually religious to be good and I just observe many faithful people. Her wonderful, I observed many atheists were wonderful. So just as a matter of observation, I don't think you do it's it's up to set my job to tell people their faith in another. The pulpit business and persuading people are not right, but do you think that every person has the possibilities
down the road to character and to take themselves higher than they are right now, I think, were born to want that were born, but that's a part of the human condition. I think it's in us I've normally, whether you do not want it and do not want us to my men from him. Saint Augustine was one of the founding fathers of western Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church born in the fourth century. Augustine spent his life teaching the holy Trinity and that human beings are the perfect union, a body and soul. Your mom Monica, who is like the helicopter, amount to be done out of her mouth shoes,
trying to control them and they are very conflicted relationship at the end of her life. She said to him, you know all my life. I want you to be a certain sort of man and you now that kind of man and I am ready to go on ready, die, I'm fine, I've. They were neatly when this happened. She said I thought I want to go back to Africa, but gods everywhere. Who finally bury me here and she does Dinah s letter, but he describes their final conversation and that their every all this conflict and fighting mother and son, I was sweet, harmonious conversationally he's describing they talk about the left com, life, they fled and he said we lit. We went above pure bodily things into the realm of pure spirit. Many is along sense. It's really hard to understand, but not one word in their repeats. That word is the word hushed.
And he says: are voices were hushed? The sound of the bird was hushed, sound of the trees was hush, hush hush touched and he describes this great tranquillity and so our world the ambitions there. Never there's always some miles out there, but spiritually ethic were aware to seek that tranquillity and peace and he achieved it, and I do think all of us want to get there. We have a life where we went through struggles. Winters enjoys, but we cohered as a person, and we know who we are grateful for what we were delighted by
and peace. What do you think he recalled here to do well at eight seven, I read a book called adding to the bare everyone, and I said I will be ready so from seven. I knew I can write and their programme been two hundred day since then that have arisen, but as to what to do with a ready made changed over time. I used to want to advance a certain political agenda. Then I wanted to be an example of certain sort of political person like not a screamer but civil. Now I think my calling- hopefully for the rest of my life, and this just in a terms is to try to shift the conversation a little towards these subjects. I frankly think we talk about politics too much with too many shows where politics and not enough, shows about this, and so I like to shift the color it's a little over in that direction. Just cuz, I think, there's a hunger for it and you've been doing it all your whole career. But there aren't that so many.
And they even turn on a cable news and there's political, political political, political, you're right as a certain kind of antagonistic voices that that that work for television. What do you think that's actually doing for us or to us? It's making cynical its during couple things. First, There are certain shortly will go to the tasks that it can be reminded how right they are all yeah and then, but then I think it is like a formulated. It turns politics into like a team sport just mighty my team and the third thing it does. Politics has come to displace morality. When we talk about things, we do it through the guise of politics, Oh that's, really! Good investors is wanting, stiffer have has really gay, but and then it turns politics into holy war. So coarse politics has come to replace morality, yeah
and it and it's become a holy war? It can't be good for us now. I am, I live in Washington have fun. I see how bad it can be. What has been the greatest outcome for you? Lied to people are talking about character and having and how it connects to our souls in a way that we haven't before. But what has been the greatest for you before? I didn't know the words like when I asked five years ago. How do you get here I didn't know the words I didn't know anything, and so I have certain words that I can use soul, grace sin and those words like handholds. And so now, at least over little language described the moral drama going on inside this open you up in awake, as did you? Would you, in a prior, more cynical life have thought.
Of those things, soul grace in her laid all that is put new age, maybe or I just wouldn't have. I might have reproved adjusted now you're a friend of mine, said he read my first book in this book and said you can't really that's the same person like now. Where, where do you stand Reza? May verses eulogy virtues? Why fecamp I'm better imbalance that doesn't mean I've solidified the eulogy having become the person I'd like to be by a long shot, but I spend so much time thinking about that and what will be- and I think that's a good question for all of you who are listening to us right now. What will be the one great thing, important thing that people say about what your life meant? Well, I hope they ll say he. He accelerated
went on that? He he got better. He got better get better at a faster pace. It got braver about this stuff ass. He went on, I hope, they'll say there and then I hope- and I am not there, but I've gotta hopefully get alot of life that he was really able to make strong commitments. I do think that's what it's all about its about. Can you commit to a philosophy? Will you have a view of the world? Are you and mashed in a web of unconditional loves? Can you serve causes that can't be completed a single lifetime? Can you do those big commitments and stick with them yeah. You know it's interesting one of the things my Angelou, whose personal friend
and mother figure for me used to say that people may not remember what you dear, but they will remember how you made them feel what will people say about the way you ve made them feel? Well, you and I ask that, as you know, in your professional life and in your personal life, I hope you stung me without paying attention for the gift. Slash work on better work on paying attention. I hope I hope they feel admired, but I'm a big believer in admiration, admiring people they feel valued and they feel it has. This help you develop a boar soulful way of being with yourself calming spiritual practice. I think someone in prayer somewhat just when you're learning about the stuff and you're reading books. Really deep. Sometimes I'm on the floor, my on the carpet of my living room researching
I'm having fun. I realise how much how meaningful it is to be learned, about this sort of stuff. At this time in your life, and the vague has always been there. Langleys ardor people humor and for me sometimes writing can be spiritual practice of I used to be when they did not believe in journaling, because I thought so self indulgent. Maybe, but now I nicer believing it. Why does Eddie? You may see honest, let yourself and it's very hard I've read for living, so I'm always ready for an audience. But then, if I write separately for no audience, that's very radically different mindset, I'm not trying to impress me I'm not trying to communicate I'm just trying to be honest, I'm just trying to see accurately, and so I became so impressed why it against my life. This isn't. So what are you must product right now You probably yourself for the journey that you ve taken from the beginning of the book to the end of the book were used.
The beginning of the book. You were writing this book to save yourself and you can see as the book progressive by the time you get to the inn talking about the human He called that there has been a progression or a growing of yourself. That's what I sensed, whilst others, a book about humility, innovation, be proud of it, You can be humbly browed. If I get a bit like when we use the word pride there two different meanings. Yeah I get one is like honest: you'd, identical friendly television, but, like some pride, is self blinding you're. So arrogant, you don't even know yourself and some pride is legitimate and used it. Don't you dont, you sense, though, the fact that I you know I called the people in a magazine. I call my tea
even that you ve started a conversation. I've been having these conversations for years. I think the fact that you are now having this conversation, I think that's that's untasted happen to join you in your world. It's a good world yeah. It is a good well! Thank you. So much for time. Thank you. Thank you. I'm over Winfrey and you ve been listening to supersede conversations the pod cast. You can follow super soul on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook if you haven't yet go to apple pod catches and subscribe rate and review this plugins
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-05.