The road to character – D. Brooks

Nice book; strange to read this after Sapiens, but a lovely balance nonetheless. There is a pervasive note of religionism (perhaps too strong a word) that permeates throughout this book, but it remains full of necessary discussions and arguments.

“The goal of leadership is to find a just balance between competing values and competing goals. He seeks to be a trimmer, to shift weight one way or another as circumstances change, in order to keep the boat moving steadily forward on an even keel. He understands that in politics and business the lows are lower than the highs are high. The downside risk caused by bad decisions is larger than the upside benefits that accrue from good ones. Therefore the wise leader is a steward for his organization, and tries to pass it along in slightly better condition than he found it.”

“He who can talk only one one subject, or act only in one department, is seldom wanted, and perhaps never wished for, while the man of general knowledge can often benefit and always please.”

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who live faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

“…came as close as it ever did to the still perfection of art.”

“Social sin requires a hammering down of the door by people who are simultaneously aware that they are unworthy to be so daring. This is a philosophy of power, a philosophy of power for people who combine extreme conviction with extreme self-skepticism.”

“…change comes with relentless pressure and coercion”

“A teacher’s relationship to the craft of teaching, an athlete’s relationship to his or her sport, a doctor’s commitment to the craft of medicine, is not an individual choice that can be easily renounced when the psychic losses exceed the psychic benefits. These are life-shaping and life-defining commitments. Like finding a vocation, they are commitments to something that transcends a single lifetime. A person’s social function defines who he or she is. The commitment between a person and an institution is more like a covenant. It is an inheritance to be passed on, and a debt to be repaid. The technical tasks of, say, being a carpenter are infused with a deep meaning that transcends the task at hand.”

“Cicero wrote in Tusculan Disputations, whose mind is quiet through consistency and self-control, who finds contentment in himself, who neither breaks down in adversity nor crumbles in fright, nor burns with any thirsty need nor dissolves into wild and futile excitement, that person is the wise one we are seeking, and that person is happy.”

Now there’s a book I need to read…

“On the contrary, moderation is based on an awareness of the inevitability of conflict. If you think that the world can fit neatly together, then you don’t need to be moderate. If you think all your personal qualities can be brought together into simple harmony, you don’t need to hold back, you can just go the whole hog for self-actualization and growth. If you think all moral values point in the same direction, or all political goals can be realized all at once by a straightforward march along one course, you don’t need to be moderate either. You can just head in the direction of truth as quickly as possible. Moderation is based on the idea that things do not fit neatly together. Politics is likely to be a competition between legitimate opposing interests. Philosophy is likely to be a tension between competing half-truths. A personality is likely to be a battleground of valuable by incompatible traits.”

“My own conviction is that every leader should have enough humility to accept, publicly, the responsibility for the mistakes of the subordinates he himself has selected and, likewise, to give them credit, publicly, for their triumphs.”


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