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Monday, 28 December 2015

Last Look at Balance

   My "inspired word" for 2015 was "balance."  It was something I was striving for as I had various roles.  I will not pretend that I have arrived, but I have made some progress in a journey that I believe will continue into 2016 and beyond.  It seems fitting that a book I finished at the close of 2015 addresses the matter of balance, albeit in a different way.

   I'd like to spend a little time looking at another type of balance that is highlighted in a book by American columnist David Brooks entitled The Road to Character.  Borrowing from Jewish Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Brooks uses the archetypal names of Adam I and Adam II to define two distinct aspects of human beings.  Adam I, based on the account of creation in Genesis 1, represents humans in relation to the broader environment in which they have been placed.  God gives mankind (both male and female) authority over the other creatures and a task to care for their garden domain.  In contrast, Genesis 2 gives detail about the relational aspects of human kind: how Adam II relates to his wife and to his Maker.  Adam II involves the heart and soul of a person and the development of inner character.
   The Road to Character is not written as a biblical commentary.  Rather, Brooks explores cultural trends and delves into the lives of particular people who demonstrated solid moral character, even if it came at the expense of worldly definitions of "success" and "happiness."  He argues that in the present time (and since about 1945), people in the West have become more concerned about cultivating Adam I traits (getting more education, landing promotions, increasing their salaries, amassing material possessions, working overtime, being successful)  at the expense of Adam II. Having a strong moral compass, which exhibits itself in loyalty to spouse and family, self-discipline, genuine humility and a coherent spiritual awareness, is increasingly rare among the people who are held in high esteem. Brooks asserts:

"It's probably necessary to reassert a balance between Adam I and Adam II and to understand that if anything, Adam II is more important than Adam I" (page 260).
   Brooks brings this point home by aligning Adam I with a person's resume or CV: the record of education, employment and successes that tells only a part of who you are.   Adam II includes the things said about you in a eulogy at your funeral.  These are the qualities one was known for in terms of relationships and consistent, admirable qualities that will be missed the most.

   The persons I most admire, the people I know and love the most are not the ones who were out to conquer the world or who grasped at every opportunity to make personal gains.  No, they were my humble grandparents, who simply and faithfully went about the tasks God had placed before them. They lived without fanfare, leaving behind minimal assets; however, the spiritual heritage they left for me continues to guide me every day.  My parents are still living, and they have likewise chosen the path of humility; they are realistic about human nature but not bitter or hostile to anyone.  Their material success was received as a blessing on their labours; it was shared and never hoarded.  The short biographies that Brooks includes in The Road to Character are an interesting supplement for me, but I am grateful for the living examples of character I will never forget.

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