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“The Moral Bucket List”-David Brooks on character

“The Moral Bucket List”-David Brooks on character

David Brooks, op-ed columnist for the New York Times, has just written “The Road to Character“, a book about the path to living as a moral person. Writing in the Times, he gives a few examples of the virtues he believes moral people possess, presenting a sort of ‘moral bucket list’.

Oliver Burkeman interviewed him in the Guardian for his book release, and the two spoke about the contradiction in his authorship on a book about humility and morality.

From the article:

David Brooks is aware there’s some irony in the subject matter of his latest book, which is a hymn to humility, and the importance of acknowledging how little we can ever truly know. As a twice-weekly opinion columnist for the New York Times, and a fixture on US television and radio, he is, in his own words, “paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am”; he is also one of the few conservatives whose views Barack Obama often solicits.

He covered some of the material in a talk he gave for the Aspen Institute last year, focusing on the attributes of people broadly identified as moral, and exploring how struggling and suffering change our lives in memorable ways.

Will you read Brook’s new book? What do you think of his views on morality and humility?


Posted by David Streever


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Harry M. Merryman

I’m not sure why David Brooks’ book is attracting so much attention. The idea that as one ages, one discovers that money and worldly accomplishments are not as meaningful as the capacity to love, to have deep relationships, to be loyal, and to embrace humility (to name a few of the “eulogy virtues”) is hardly a novel observation. Perhaps some find this “revelation” surprising coming from a nominal conservative?

David Griswold

Yes, I do intend to read David Brooks’ book. I have found him to be a thoughtful observer, and I don’t need to agree with everything a person believes in order to learn something of value from his or her perspective. Thank you for bringing the book to our attention.

Steve White

June Butler writes:
“In the past, Brooks was often a bit of a scold about the number of divorces in our society, but not so much now since his own divorce.”

Does this mean that one can only lament the imperfections of the world if one is perfect? I am a divorced person and I wish there were fewer divorces. I do not think this qualifies me as a hypocrite (though perhaps others things do!).

My point is just that a flawed messenger may nonetheless have a message worth paying attention to. And who among us is not flawed? “If we say we have no sin the truth is not in us…”

While I don’t agree with Brooks on many things, I plan to read this book.

June Butler

Not at all, Steve. Two of my three children are divorced. I wish there would be fewer divorces, too. What annoys me about Brooks’s writing on morality and society is that from his perch in his multimillion dollar mansion, he seems to suggest that people who are poor and whose lives are disorderly are that way because of their own bad morals and bad habits.

Also, his writing doesn’t make sense to me far too much of the time. There’s no there there. Why does he have a place in the “newspaper of record”? Why does PBS give him a forum? What does he mean to say? I don’t read him; I don’t watch him; and I won’t read his book.

Margie Ranc

I first learned about David Brooks when I read his book Bobos in Paradise. I thought it was a revealing observation of the intellectuals “yuppies” of our society at the end of the 20th Century. Since then I have watched him on PBS and read some of his columns in the Times. Most recently he writes more about society and man’s condition, less frequently about politics. I did hear him say on the News Hour that he had been mistaken about the war in Iraq.
I don’t agree with all David Brooks says but I think his comments are worth considering. By the way it appears that he and his wife are back together. This current book of his is about people who, in Brooks estimation, have worked throughout their lives to better the lives of others. He says in interviews that he is not like them but would like to be more like them – midlife reassessment.

Carolyn Peet

Ms. Butler, if he continued to scold after his own divorce, wouldn’t you then label him a hypocrite?

June Butler

Yes. The scoldings about divorce were part of Brooks’s general scoldings that suggested that poor people just needed to get their acts together and…lo!…they could leap into the middle class or perhaps even become rich like him.

June Butler

My response is visceral, but it came after a period of reading his columns, and watching him on TV, and trying to understand what he was talking about. I often thought he didn’t succeed in saying what he really meant, in other words, that he was inarticulate. With the onset of mushy brain, I had to stop. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

June Butler

Spongey. That’s about right. I used mushy, but they’re close. Is it still okay that I don’t like his columns nor his TV appearances? And I won’t read his new book

John Chilton

Yes, it’s okay. What I find of interest is that the reaction to him is so visceral. Are far as can tell it’s because of the appearance that he’s persuasive to the persuadable middle — that NPR and PBS give him billing, along with his NYT position. I like to like him because of that, and because he makes appeals to Republicans to stop being stupid and taking self destructive positions.

John Chilton

Despite his own divorce I’m sure Brooks is just as convinced as he was that kids, especially poor kids, suffer because of the break down of the family. I don’t see his divorce as a constructive way to criticize him. And just to be sure I’m not misunderstood, I don’t think anyone is saying women or men should stay in bad marriages.

On NPR Brooks is paired each Friday with the liberal E. J. Dionne of the Brookings Institute. One of the pillars of the research at Brookings is strengthening the family. See for example,

Some folks dislike Brooks for his spongy theorizing. Others dislike him because they see him as the conservative camel’s nose under the tent — the charming nice guy they are afraid their friends might find convincing.

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