“Proposition one defines the goal of life. The long road to character begins with an accurate understanding of our nature, and the core of that understanding is that we are flawed creatures. We have an innate tendency toward selfishness and overconfidence. We have a tendency to see ourselves as the center of the universe, as if everything revolves around us….Although we are flawed creatures, we are also splendidly endowed. We are divided within ourselves, both fearfully and wonderfully made. We do sin, but we also have the capacity to recognize sin,to feel ashamed of sin, and to overcome sin. We are both weak and strong, bound and free, blind and far-seeing.”
These two passages are from one of my favorite books that I read this year, The Road To Character. These passages in particular remind me of David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” commencement speech. “This Is Water” is one of the most important concepts I came across during my developing years. It urges us to move past our default setting: that we are the absolute center of the universe and everything revolves around us. What we learn from DFW and “The Road To Character”, is that the challenge of our lifetime is getting past this default setting. As David Brooks says in The Road To Character, “The purpose of the struggle against sin and weakness is not to ‘win’, because that is not possible; it is to get better at waging it.”
The value of a real education is choosing what to think about, moving past your default setting. Developing “character”, becoming “mature”, or “well-adjusted”, is simply becoming better at waging this war against your default setting; better than you were yesterday. It means choosing long term virtues (courage, honesty, humility, etc.) over the short term distractions (lust, fear, vanity, gluttony).
The thing to keep in mind is that we are all flawed, and that is ok. The beauty in life is recognizing our flaws and trying to become more graceful as we overcome them.