David Brooks, a well-known columnist, wrote an essay several months ago in which he talks about the difference between the “resume virtues” and the “eulogy virtues.” The resume virtues are the ones you list on your resume, the skills you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success. The eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest and faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.
Most of us would say that eulogy virtues are more important than resume virtues, but—as Brook also confesses—how many of us spend much more of our time thinking about the latter rather than the former?? Most of us have clearer strategies for how to achieve career success than we do for how to develop a profound character.
Brooks helps us to understand that we have conflicting energies operating inside of us. The culture we live in nourishes and rewards the resume virtues, but gives little encouragement to the eulogy virtues. This story plays out perfectly in the account of Jacob in the Old Testament. Jacob, who would become Israel, is shrewd and conniving and manipulative—and above all else, a winner. He gets everything he wants by the sheer force of his will and cleverness. However, in the end he can’t manufacture the one thing he wants and needs more than anything else—the peace of a reconciled relationship with his brother, Esau, within himself, and with God.
Listen to how Brooks describes himself and see if you can find a piece of yourself there:
“I was born with a natural disposition toward shallowness. I now work as a pundit and columnist. I’m paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident than I am, to appear smarter than I am, to appear better and more authoritative than I really am. I have lived a life of vague moral aspiration—vaguely wanting to be good, vaguely wanting to serve some larger purpose, while lacking a concrete moral vocabulary—a clear understanding of how to live a rich inner life, or even how character is developed.
“I’ve discovered that without a rigorous focus on the eulogy virtues side of our nature, it is easy to slip into a self-satisfied mediocrity. We grade ourselves on a forgiving curve. We follow our desires wherever they take us and we approve of ourselves as long as we are not hurting anyone else. We figure if people around us like us we must be good enough. In the process we end up turning ourselves into something a little less impressive than we had originally hoped. A humiliating gap opens between our actual selves and our desired selves. We realize the voice of the resume virtues is loud but the voice of the eulogy virtues is muffled. The life of the one is clear, but the life of the other is fuzzy. One is alert, the other is sleepwalking.”
How are you working on your “eulogy virtues”?
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.