A few years ago I had the opportunity to read a fantastic book, The Road to Character, by David Brooks, a political and cultural commentator and best-selling author. I use the word “fantastic” because Brooks does a wonderful job in the book of challenging us to differentiate between external success, which he calls “resume virtues,” and what really should matter in our lives — our core values. I often refer to Brooks’ examples in my values-based leadership classes. I highly recommend his book.

I was reminded of David Brooks and the The Road to Character last week because my former Kellogg student and colleague, Khalid Ali, sent me an article that Brooks wrote recently for The Atlantic entitled, “How America Got Mean: In a culture devoid of moral education, generations are growing up in a morally inarticulate, self-referential world.

Brooks does an excellent job of summarizing the importance of “moral formation” and what happens when we no longer make it the foundation of who we are as a society. It is impossible to maintain a healthy society if we are not willing to listen to one another and respect one another. Living in our current highly polarized world leads to isolation and corruption. Our current political environment is a great example of how dysfunctional things have become.

Brooks argues for a return to three major components of moral formation:

  • Helping people restrain their selfishness
  • Teaching basic social and ethical skills
  • Helping people finding a purpose in life

I appreciate the questions he challenges us to reflect on:

  • What is the ruling passion of your soul?
  • Whom are you responsible to?
  • What are my moral obligations?
  • What will it take for my life to be meaningful?
  • What does it mean to be a good human in today’s world?
  • What are the central issues we need to engage with concerning new technology and human life?

In my Kellogg classes, since I often have the students focus on the importance of self reflection and establishing their values, they ask me if having a strong religious/spiritual foundation is a critical component of becoming a values based leader. I always respond that it may not be necessary for everyone, but it is absolutely critical for me. It becomes the foundation of everything.

I appreciate the way David Brooks addresses the importance of religion in the article:

Mere religious faith doesn’t always make people morally good, but living in a community, orienting your heart toward some transcendent love, basing your value system on concern for the underserved—those things tend to.

David Brooks

Author & Commentator

I highly recommend you read Brooks’ article. (Please note that the article is behind a paywall, but The Atlantic does typically allow guests access to two free articles.)



Image by Rod Long on Unsplash