By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Aug. 26, 2022)
Recently I have been thinking about the difference between the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the ones you list on your résumé, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.
The eulogy virtues are more profound. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being — whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.
Most of us would say that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé virtues. Still, I confess that family, friends and society demand that we spend more time thinking about resume rather than eulogy. Our education system is certainly oriented around the résumé virtues more than the eulogy ones. Public conversation is, too—-the self-help tips in magazines, the nonfiction bestsellers. Most of us have more precise strategies for how to achieve career success than we do for developing a profound character.
One book that has helped me think about these two sets of virtues is Lonely Man of Faith, which Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote in 1965. Soloveitchik noted that there are two accounts of creation in Genesis and argued that these represent the two opposing sides of our nature, which he called Adam I and Adam II.
Modernising Soloveitchik’s categories a bit, we could say that Adam I is the career-oriented, ambitious side of our nature. Adam I is the external, résumé Adam. Adam I wants to build, create, produce, and discover things. He wants to have high status and win victories.
Adam II is the internal Adam. Adam II wants to embody certain moral qualities. Adam II wants to have a serene inner character, a quiet but solid sense of right and wrong — not only to do good but to be good. Adam II wants to love intimately, sacrifice self in the service of others, live in obedience to some transcendent truth, and have a cohesive inner soul that honours creation and one’s own possibilities.
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 savours 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 savour 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.’
Soloveitchik argued that we live in the contradiction between these two Adams. The outer, majestic Adam and the inner, humble Adam are not fully reconcilable. We are forever caught in self-confrontation. We are called to fulfill both personae, and must master the art of living forever within the tension between these two natures.
The hard part of this confrontation is that Adam I and II live by different logics. Adam I—-the creating, building, and discovering Adam—-lives by a straightforward utilitarian logic. It’s the logic of economics. Input leads to output. Effort leads to reward. Practice makes perfect. Pursue self-interest. Maximise your utility. Impress the world.
Adam II lives by an inverse logic. It’s a moral logic, not an economic one. You have to give to receive. You have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself. You have to conquer your desire to get what you crave. Success leads to the greatest failure, which is pride. Failure leads to the greatest success, which is humility and learning. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.
To nurture your Adam I career, it makes sense to cultivate your strengths. To nurture your Adam II moral core, it is necessary to confront your weaknesses. We live in a culture that fosters ADAM 1, the external Adam and neglects Adam II. We live in a society that encourages us to think about how to have a great career but leaves many of us inarticulate about how to cultivate our inner life.
The competition to succeed and win admiration is so fierce that it becomes all-consuming. The consumer marketplace encourages us to live by a utilitarian calculus, to satisfy our desires and lose sight of the moral stakes involved in everyday decisions.
The noise of fast and shallow communications makes it harder to hear the quieter sounds that emanate from the depths. We live in a culture that teaches us to promote and advertise ourselves and to master the skills required for success, but that gives little encouragement to humility, sympathy, and honest self-confrontation, which are necessary for building character.
If you are only Adam I, you turn into a shrewd animal, a crafty, self-preserving creature adept at playing the game and turning everything into a game. If that’s all you have, you spend a lot of time cultivating professional skills, but you don’t have a clear idea of the sources of meaning in life, so you don’t know where you should devote your skills, which career path will be highest and best.
Years pass, and the deepest parts of yourself go unexplored and unstructured. You are busy, but you have a vague anxiety that your life has not achieved its ultimate meaning and significance. You live with an unconscious boredom, not really loving or attached to the moral purposes that give life its worth. You lack the internal criteria to make unshakable commitments. You never develop inner constancy, the integrity that can withstand popular disapproval or a serious blow. You find yourself doing things that other people approve of, whether these things are right for you or not. You foolishly judge other people by their abilities, not by their worth. When you do not have a strategy to build character, your inner and external life will eventually fall to pieces.
Which Adam are we determined to become?
Most of this column came from David Brooks’ bestseller The Road to Character. It was first published on Jan. 6, 2017.
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