David Brooks’ new book, The Road to Character (Random House: 2015), attempts to understand what motivates people to serve and sacrifice for others. He begins with the Creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2, which describe two different visions of humanity that he calls Adam I and Adam II:
While Adam I wants to conquer the world, Adam II wants to obey a calling to serve the world. While Adam I is creative and savors his own accomplishments, Adam II sometimes renounces worldly success and status for the sake of some sacred purpose. While Adam I asks how things work, Adam II asks why things exist, and what ultimately we are here for. While Adam I wants to venture forth, Adam II wants to return to his roots and savor the warmth of a family meal. While Adam I’s motto is “Success,” Adam II experiences life as a moral drama. His motto is “Charity, love, and redemption” (xii).
Brooks admits that he’s an Adam I personality. A newspaper columnist and political pundit, he is more anxious to look good than to be good. To put it in his own words,
I was born with a natural predisposition toward shallowness…I’m paid to be a narcissistic blow-hard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am, to appear better and more authoritative than I really am…Like many people these days, I have lived a life of vague moral aspiration—vaguely wanting to be good, vaguely wanting to serve some larger purpose, while lacking a concrete moral vocabulary, a clear understanding of how to live a rich inner life, or even a clearer knowledge of how character is developed and depth is achieved (xiv).
What a striking description of the kind of person who reads our novels! He may seem eminently successful by outward appearances, but inwardly he knows how deficient his life is. He wants a life that really matters, so he looks for moral heroes and heroines.Make no mistake: The world is desperately wants decent life models. As Christian authors, are called to describe such people. And yes, we are called to be such people.