David Brooks is an op-ed contributor to The New York Times. His forte is insightful critique and analysis of culture, politics, and, often times, religion. In 2015 he wrote a spectacular book entitled, The Road to Character. In an April 2015 op-ed piece, he spelled out the main tension of the book, the very tension of character, as one that vacillates between resume and eulogy virtues:
It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?
We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.
But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet. (“The Moral Bucket List,” The New York Times, April 11, 2015)
Progress has given us the greatest achievements in science and also given us the ethnic cleansing of entire people groups. Absent a moral compass, progress moves forward in any direction—and often not towards the ways of God.
The pervasive pragmatism of a western culture mired in individualism, consumerism, and materialism slowly erodes the soul of followers of Jesus. The appeal of “resume virtues” rewards us more instantaneously than “eulogy virtues.” But the grand goal for Christians is not an easier life, a selfish life, or simply getting ahead. We live lives that should mean something to others—we should embody hope.
And if hope can penetrate war bunkers and prison walls, how much more can it create a people who are merciful and shrewd in their engagement of the world around them. To a world of progress, we live by the challenge of Jesus when he sent out the first disciples: “Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, NIV).
Optimism claims everything will be all right despite facing reality. Hope accepts reality, the poverty of spirit that underlies all fear and instigates all tragedies…and looks to something larger—hope always tries to piece together meaning in a world searching for understanding.
Progress is amoral and western society is indebted, entrenched, and, often times, enslaved to it. Hope—not the optimism of progress that claims bigger, better, ahistoric—provides the framework, the bumpers, for how Christians engage the cultures around them.
Hope allows us to be humble—we don’t make up the world. Hope allows us to be winsome—we know how the story ends. Hope allows us to be empowering—we don’t have to win. Hope allows us to be servants—we know the Author. Hope comes out in the funeral eulogy and never in the resume. Yet my thoughts think more fondly and my memory is more sacred of one at a funeral than the list of accomplishments they presented on a resume.
I think we all want to offer the world something of lasting worth.