The Road to Character

Posted by: DVULI | June 2, 2023

by Ron Carter, (Birmingham 1999)

In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King longed for the day when his children would be “judged by the content of their character.” But what is meant by “content of character,” and how is character developed?

New York Times columnist and best-selling author David Brooks explores these important questions in his insightful book, The Road to Character. Brooks begins by examining the difference between “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” As the names imply, “resume virtues” are the ones we list on our resume, whereas “eulogy virtues” are what others will say about us at our funeral (i.e., whether we were kind, considerate, honest, a loyal friend). I agree with Brooks when he says, “Most of us would say that the eulogy virtues are more important than the resume virtues.” However, is this acknowledgment reflected in where we focus our attention?

In a series of biographic essays (chapters 2-10), Brooks profiles a diverse group of historic figures (i.e., St. Augustine, A. Philip Randolph, Dwight Eisenhower, Martin Luther King Jr., Bayard Rustin) whose lives he believes exemplify how strong character is built and sustained. Brooks is quick to point out that none of those profiled were perfect. “They were acutely aware of their own weaknesses. They waged an internal struggle against their sins and emerged with some measure of self-respect. And when we think of them, it is not primarily what they accomplished that we remember… it is who they were.”

Brooks closes the book with an analysis of how the current culture makes it difficult to be morally good. I appreciate that he doesn’t leave the reader with the problem. He wraps up with 15 summary points designed to help the reader develop their “eulogy virtues” despite the cultural push to focus on “resume virtues.”