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TED2014

David Brooks: Should you live for your résumé ... or your eulogy?

March 19, 2014

Within each of us are two selves, suggests David Brooks in this meditative short talk: the self who craves success, who builds a résumé, and the self who seeks connection, community, love -- the values that make for a great eulogy. (Joseph Soloveitchik has called these selves "Adam I" and "Adam II.") Brooks asks: Can we balance these two selves?

David Brooks - Columnist
New York Times columnist David Brooks is the author of “Bobos in Paradise,” “On Paradise Drive,” "The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement", and "The Road to Character." Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
So I've been thinking about the difference between
00:12
the résumé virtues and
the eulogy virtues.
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The résumé virtues are the
ones you put on your résumé,
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which are the skills
you bring to the marketplace.
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The eulogy virtues are the ones
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that get mentioned in the eulogy,
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which are deeper: who are you,
in your depth,
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what is the nature of your relationships,
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are you bold, loving, dependable, consistency?
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And most of us, including
me, would say
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that the eulogy virtues are the
more important of the virtues.
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But at least in my case,
are they the ones that
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I think about the most?
And the answer is no.
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So I've been thinking about that problem,
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and a thinker who has
helped me think about it
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is a guy named Joseph Soloveitchik, who was a rabbi
00:48
who wrote a book called "The
Lonely Man Of Faith" in 1965.
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Soloveitchik said there are two sides of our natures,
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which he called Adam I
and Adam II.
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Adam I is the worldly, ambitious,
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external side of our nature.
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He wants to build, create,
create companies,
01:02
create innovation.
01:05
Adam II is the humble
side of our nature.
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Adam II wants not only
to do good but to be good,
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to live in a way internally
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that honors God, creation and our possibilities.
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Adam I wants to conquer the world.
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Adam II wants to hear
a calling and obey the world.
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Adam I savors accomplishment.
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Adam II savors inner
consistency and strength.
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Adam I asks how things work.
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Adam II asks why we're here.
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Adam I's motto is "success."
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Adam II's motto is "love, redemption and return."
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And Soloveitchik argued
that these two sides
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of our nature are
at war with each other.
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We live in perpetual self-confrontation
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between the external success and the internal value.
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And the tricky thing,
I'd say, about these
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two sides of our nature is they work
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by different logics.
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The external logic is
an economic logic:
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input leads to output,
risk leads to reward.
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The internal side of our nature
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is a moral logic and
often an inverse logic.
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You have to give to receive.
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You have to surrender
to something outside yourself
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to gain strength within yourself.
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You have to conquer the
desire to get what you want.
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In order to fulfill yourself,
you have to forget yourself.
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In order to find yourself,
you have to lose yourself.
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We happen to live in a society
that favors Adam I,
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and often neglects Adam II.
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And the problem is, that turns
you into a shrewd animal
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who treats life as a game,
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and you become a cold,
calculating creature
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who slips into a sort of mediocrity
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where you realize there's a difference
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between your desired
self and your actual self.
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You're not earning the sort of eulogy you want,
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you hope someone will give to you.
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You don't have the
depth of conviction.
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You don't have an emotional sonorousness.
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You don't have
commitment to tasks
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that would take more than a lifetime to commit.
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I was reminded of a common
response through history
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of how you build a solid Adam II,
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how you build a depth of character.
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Through history, people
have gone back
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into their own pasts,
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sometimes to a precious
time in their life,
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to their childhood,
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and often, the mind
gravitates in the past
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to a moment of shame,
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some sin committed,
some act of selfishness,
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an act of omission, of shallowness,
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the sin of anger, the sin of self-pity,
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trying to be a people-pleaser,
a lack of courage.
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Adam I is built by
building on your strengths.
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Adam II is built by fighting
your weaknesses.
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You go into yourself,
you find the sin
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which you've committed over
and again through your life,
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your signature sin
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out of which the others emerge,
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and you fight that sin and you wrestle with that sin,
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and out of that wrestling,
that suffering,
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then a depth of character is constructed.
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And we're often not
taught to recognize
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the sin in ourselves,
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in that we're not taught in this culture
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how to wrestle with it,
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how to confront it,
and how to combat it.
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We live in a culture
with an Adam I mentality
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where we're inarticulate
about Adam II.
04:09
Finally, Reinhold Niebuhr
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summed up the confrontation, the fully lived
04:14
Adam I and Adam II life, this way:
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"Nothing that is worth doing
can be achieved in our lifetime;
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therefore we must
be saved by hope.
04:23
Nothing which is true or
beautiful or good makes
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complete sense in any immediate context of history;
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therefore we must be saved by faith.
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Nothing we do, however virtuous,
can be accomplished alone;
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therefore we must
be saved by love.
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No virtuous act is quite as virtuous
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from the standpoint of our friend
or foe as from our own standpoint.
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Therefore we must be saved
by that final form of love,
04:47
which is forgiveness.”
04:50
Thanks.
04:52
(Applause)
04:54

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David Brooks - Columnist
New York Times columnist David Brooks is the author of “Bobos in Paradise,” “On Paradise Drive,” "The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement", and "The Road to Character."

Why you should listen

Writer and thinker David Brooks has covered business, crime and politics (as well as subbing in as the Wall Street Journal's movie critic) over a long career in journalism. He's an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times in a legendary run that started in September 2003.

His column looks deeply into the social currents that underpin American life. He's the author of Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got ThereOn Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future TenseThe Social Animal and The Road to Character

Brooks is a frequent analyst on NPR’s All Things Considered and a commentator on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer.

 

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