The Moral Bucket List or Could David Brooks Actually Be Right?

Apr 20, 2015 | Uncategorized

I am usually wary of David Brooks’ patronizing conservatism and the predictable but still tiresome ease with which he feels he can speak on my behalf,  but this past week, his column, leading the way among the most popular and emailed of recent NY Times articles, began showing up on my social media feeds and in emails from my own colleagues and friends. The piece, titled The Moral Bucket List, offers some of his suggestions of the kinds of “moral adventures that produce” what he calls “eulogy virtues” those modes and signs of  inner character, often mentioned in eulogies, that we all agree are more important than resume virtues but that we seldom achieve while focused only on the latter.

Brooks’ list includes building deep humility, recognition of dependency, confrontation with our own weaknesses, “energizing love,” a calling to live for, and  landing the leap of consciousness (beyond fears and social logics). I imagine my own list might be constructed differently (see sentence one of this blog) but Brooks’ bucket is certainly filled with sound core ideas and the concept of the list itself shows up for me–and apparently several of my friends and colleagues– at just the right time.

Like many of us, I was told I was special when I was a kid and I put a lot of energy over the course of my life into believing it. Yes. We are all special in God’s eye blah blah. I mean the kind of special that will allow a person to accomplish great things without concerted effort, to deserve and receive cake just because, or to be able to transcend those life cycles and archetypal challenges more common folk seem plagued with. Case in point the mid-life crisis I am currently experiencing. Turns out I’m not immune. I do have enough sense to want it to mean something though. Yes, I should still get all of the cake and Eileen Fisher I desire, but I also really  want to view this lovely package of depression, hot flashes, and existential questioning as a genuine opportunity. To craft out of it an exercise in just the kind of growth, humility, and expanded sense of humor and love to which Dear David refers.

Since no job offers are forthcoming, it’s looking like the split between my work on resume and eulogy virtues will be made dramatically manifest. As I move closer to the end of my eight year tenure at the Center for Black Music Research and to the beginning of life among the broke and uninsured  in small-town Wisconsin, I’ll be thinking long and hard about my own moral bucket list and what it might be like to structure a year around living my values as fully as possible and building the rich inner life and deep unconditional relationships Brooks mentions.

Lord knows just taking the leap from gainfully-employed “successful” city dweller into the great unknown (aka the Wisconsin Wilderness) will automatically require some kinda humility shift and some kinda leap of faith. Yes, David Brooks. For once, you may be onto something here.

1 Comment

  1. Kyra Gaunt, Ph.D.
    November 1, 2015

    I love the “desire path” you are creating.


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