The Road to Character | David Brooks

Summary of: The Road to Character
By: David Brooks


Embark on a journey through David Brooks’ insightful book, ‘The Road to Character,’ as it explores the two conflicting personalities within each individual, referred to as Adam I and Adam II. While Adam I thrives on external achievements, seeking career growth and social status, Adam II is focused on cultivating inner virtues such as kindness, bravery, honesty, and devotion. This summary delves into how societal changes have shifted the balance between these two traits, as cultural values have transitioned from valuing humility to celebrating individualism and personal desire. Discover how to regain the essential balance between these ‘Adams’ and embrace our flaws to lead a more fulfilling life.

The Two Sides of Every Person

Each individual is made up of two personalities that are in constant conflict: Adam I and Adam II. Adam I represents the alpha, success-driven aspects of our personality, while Adam II is the more virtuous and moral side that is often overshadowed. American society has shifted towards the self-centered world of Adam I, encouraging individuals to prioritize their own desires above all else. However, the core of what makes us human lies in the virtuous traits displayed by Adam II, such as kindness, bravery, honesty, and devotion.

The Cost of a Self-Obsessed Society

The rise of romanticism in the eighteenth century marked the beginning of the increasing prevalence of Adam I types and ideas of human goodness and individual power. However, after the Depression and World War II, society sought to break free from self-restraint and claim a new positive lifestyle. This led to individualism and personal desire overshadowing humility, even in marginalized communities seeking justice. Our self-obsessed society has come at a cost which can be seen in the lack of restrained victory celebrations from Victory in Europe day to the more recent celebration of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The Cult of Achievement

Our society has become more individualistic and self-promoting, leading us to prioritize accomplishing over fostering relationships. This mindset has affected even the way we raise our children, turning it into another tool for self-promotion. We no longer invest in things out of love or loyalty but only to climb the social ladder. The belief that we can achieve anything we set our minds to has reduced every situation to a simplistic equation of cost and opportunity. As a result, our lives revolve around how we achieve, not why. The effect is profound, with huge aspects of our lives subsumed by the cult of achievement. An annual poll of incoming freshmen shows that fewer than half seek a meaningful philosophy of life compared to the 80% who sought it in 1977. The number of incoming freshmen prioritizing wealth as an important life goal has also increased from 42% in 1966 to 74% in 1990.

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