David Brooks wrote a beautiful Op-Ed piece for the New York Times this past weekend titled “The Moral Bucket List.” In it, he talks about resume virtues versus eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are the skills we learn for career success and what our education system is largely designed to teach. Eulogy virtues, however, are the types of things discussed at your funeral (to be a bit morbid). They include attributes such as kindness, bravery, honesty, or love. In the article, he talks about those people with impressive eulogy virtues, who radiate an inner light,
“They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.”
We all know these types of people. Perhaps some of you fit this description. Yet I think it is far too common today to focus on our resume virtues at the expense of our eulogy ones. As Brooks writes, “it is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity… Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.“
However, the good news is that an incandescent soul can be cultivated, and Brooks compiles what he calls a “moral bucket list” for those wishing to get closer to their desired selves.
the moral bucket list…*
According to Brooks, the moral bucket list includes 6 experiences:
1. the humility shift – a shift to honestly admitting your own weaknesses. This is followed by…
2. self-defeat – confronting these weaknesses and finding ways to counteract them. Next is…
3. the dependency leap – switching from an individualist/ highly autonomous perspective on life to one that allows for admitting when you need help or support and a life rooted in connections with others.
4. energizing love is the type of life-changing love for another that overcomes one’s innate self-centeredness.
5. the call within the call is an experience that turns a career into a passion.
6. the conscience leap is the moment when one makes a moral decision, no matter the stakes.
How can educators support eulogy virtues? …*
The above moral bucket list experiences have a lot to do with those “soft skills” that we talk about these days in education such teamwork, emotional intelligence, empathy. They also involve metacognition – specifically self-awareness and reflection on one’s faults and how to remedy these. Always an advocate for soft skills, I suggest we continue to emphasize the importance of these for building both our resume AND eulogy virtues
Collectivism and connectedness…*
Brooks suggests that we need to take a less self-centered approach to education. While we often tell our graduates to “follow your passion” or “be true to yourself”, we should focus less on the self and more on the self as connected to the world. We should say “what is life asking of you?” or “how can you match your talents and skill sets with one of our society’s deep needs?”.
The philosophy for stumblers…*
Brooks ends by suggesting something that I love, because it has a lot to do with the value of failure (an idea that I am designing my doctoral work around). He talks about “a philosophy for stumblers” or the idea that incandescent souls stumble through life, always enmeshed in a struggle towards an ideal. They are not squeamish about their imperfect nature, but rather constantly transcending, growing, and learning. As Brooks states,
“The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be”
This so clearly aligns with my beloved philosophy around failure – the idea that failure is a good and natural part of learning and growing. Therefore, if we can bring students to view life with the philosophy of stumblers (or the design thinking mindset of “fail forward”), perhaps we can help mold more incandescent souls, stumbling through life and making the world a better place…*