New York Times columnist David Brooks is one of the leading public intellectuals of our times. His book The Social Animal, a study of the unconscious mind and the triggers that drive human behaviour, was one of the most talked about publications of 2011. David Cameron instructed all the members of his Cabinet to read it.
In May 2015, Brooks came to the Intelligence Squared stage to share the insights of his latest book, The Road to Character. Brooks will argue that today’s ‘Big Me’ culture is making us increasingly self-preoccupied: we live in a world where we’re taught to be assertive, to master skills, to broadcast our brand, to get likes, to get followers. But amidst all the noise of self-promotion, Brooks claimed that we’ve lost sight of an important and counterintuitive truth: that in order to fulfil ourselves we need to learn how to forget ourselves.
To make his case, Brooks distinguished two sorts of virtues: resumé virtues and eulogy virtues. Resumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace: wealth, fame, status and a great career. Eulogy virtues are the things people will say about you at your funeral: that you were honest, loving, and steadfast. Most of us would say that eulogy virtues are more important, but it’s the resumé virtues we tend to think about the most.
By interweaving politics, spirituality and psychology, and citing examples from some of history’s greatest thinkers and leaders – St. Augustine, Dwight Eisenhower and Samuel Johnson – Brooks showed that by cultivating the eulogy virtues we can create depth of character and restore balance to our lives.