The book’s main argument is that there are two types of virtues: Résumé virtues – the traits that drive external success Eulogy virtues - Those that will be talked about at your funeral, i.e. kindness, honesty And that throughout life we are taught to focus only in the first ones.
Traditional education focuses on making you excel at math or writing (abilities that will help you succeed professionally) while not spending enough time developing the self, learning how to be.
The question then becomes: How can I learn to be a better person?
Brooks’ answer is that we learn how to be by reading about people who’ve lived great and integral lives.
Up until this point I was fascinated. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the choice of characters that were presented in the book, since most of them I couldn’t admire nor resonate with – either due to their religious, political, or general world view.
The conclusion of the book I found very good too. The most interesting ideas were:
Every society creates a moral ecology. When you behave consistently with your society’s moral ecology, people smile at you, and you’re encouraged to continue acting in that way. Over the last decades we’ve switched from valuing introversion, character, and discipline to now valuing the individual and self-expression. This switch of values has led us to focus more on résumé virtues than on eulogy virtues. Every day is a moral struggle, we’re constantly choosing between what’s right and what’s wrong, and character is built precisely there, in the course of our inner confrontations. Character is built in the struggle against our own weakness.
“You become more disciplined, considerate, and loving through a thousand small acts of self-control, sharing, service, friendship, and refined enjoyment. If you make disciplined, caring choices, you are slowly engraving certain tendencies into your mind … If you don’t develop a coherent character in this way, life will fall to pieces sooner or later. You will become a slave to your passions. But if you do behave with habitual self discipline, you will become constant and dependable”
“We are all ultimately saved by grace. The struggle against weakness often has a U shape. You are living your life and then you get knocked off course – either by an overwhelming love, or by failure, illness, loss of employment, or twist of fate. The shape is advance-retreat-advance. In retreat you admit your need and surrender your crown. You open up space that others might fill. And grace floods in.”