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This Moral Bucket List:

Résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues


ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light.

These people can be in any walk of life. 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.

When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that.

I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character.

A few years ago I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people. I realized that if I wanted to do that I was going to have to work harder to save my own soul.

I was going to have to have the sort of moral adventures that produce that kind of goodness. I was going to have to be better at balancing my life.

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues.

The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace.

The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light.

Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.

But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary.

It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve.

You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K.

But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys.

Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.

So a few years ago I set out to discover how those deeply good people got that way. I didn’t know if I could follow their road to character (I’m a pundit, more or less paid to appear smarter and better than I really am).

But I at least wanted to know what the road looked like.


Credit Rachel Levit. Photography by Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

I came to the conclusion that wonderful people are made, not born — that the people I admired had achieved an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments.

If we wanted to be gimmicky, we could say these accomplishments amounted to a moral bucket list, the experiences one should have on the way toward the richest possible inner life. Here, quickly, are some of them:


We live in the culture of the Big Me. The meritocracy wants you to promote yourself. Social media wants you to broadcast a highlight reel of your life.

Your parents and teachers were always telling you how wonderful you were.

But all the people I’ve ever deeply admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses. (Too honest for my own benefit: barely able to convincingly act in society)

They have identified their core sin, whether it is selfishness, the desperate need for approval, cowardice, hardheartedness or whatever.

They have traced how that core sin leads to the behavior that makes them feel ashamed.

They have achieved a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.


External success is achieved through competition with others. But character is built during the confrontation with your own weakness.

Dwight Eisenhower, for example, realized early on that his core sin was his temper. He developed a moderate, cheerful exterior because he knew he needed to project optimism and confidence to lead.

He did silly things to tame his anger. He took the names of the people he hated, wrote them down on slips of paper and tore them up and threw them in the garbage.

Over a lifetime of self-confrontation, he developed a mature temperament. He made himself strong in his weakest places.


Many people give away the book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” as a graduation gift.

This book suggests that life is an autonomous journey. We master certain skills and experience adventures and certain challenges on our way to individual success.

This individualist worldview suggests that character is this little iron figure of willpower inside.

But people on the road to character understand that no person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own.  The Individual reason, will and compassion are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride and self-deception. We all need redemptive assistance from outside.

People on this road see life as a process of commitment making.

Character is defined by how deeply rooted you are. Have you developed deep connections that hold you up in times of challenge and push you toward the good?

In the realm of the intellect, a person of character has achieved a settled philosophy about fundamental things.

In the realm of emotion, she is embedded in a web of unconditional loves.

In the realm of action, she is committed to tasks that can’t be completed in a single lifetime.


Dorothy Day led a disorganized life when she was young: drinking, carousing, a suicide attempt or two, following her desires, unable to find direction.

But the birth of her daughter changed her. She wrote of that birth, “If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure I could not have felt the more exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms.”

That kind of love decenters the self. It reminds you that your true riches are in another.

Most of all, this love electrifies. It puts you in a state of need and makes it delightful to serve what you love. Day’s love for her daughter spilled outward and upward.

As Day wrote, “No human creature could receive or contain so vast a flood of love and joy as I often felt after the birth of my child. With this came the need to worship, to adore.”

She made unshakable commitments in all directions. She became a Catholic, started a radical newspaper, opened settlement houses for the poor and lived among the poor, embracing shared poverty as a way to build community, to not only do good, but be good.

This gift of love overcame, sometimes, the natural self-centeredness all of us feel.


We all go into professions for many reasons: money, status, security. But some people have experiences that turn a career into a calling.

These experiences quiet the self. All that matters is living up to the standard of excellence inherent in their craft.

Frances Perkins was a young woman who was an activist for progressive causes at the start of the 20th century. She was polite and a bit genteel.

But one day she stumbled across the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, and watched dozens of garment workers hurl themselves to their deaths rather than be burned alive. That experience shamed her moral sense and purified her ambition. It was her call within a call.

After that, she turned herself into an instrument for the cause of workers’ rights. She was willing to work with anybody, compromise with anybody, push through hesitation.

She even changed her appearance so she could become a more effective instrument for the movement.

She became the first woman in a United States cabinet, under Franklin D. Roosevelt, and emerged as one of the great civic figures of the 20th century.


In most lives there’s a moment when people strip away all the branding and status symbols, all the prestige that goes with having gone to a certain school or been born into a certain family. They leap out beyond the utilitarian logic and crash through the barriers of their fears.

The novelist George Eliot (her real name was Mary Ann Evans) was a mess as a young woman, emotionally needy, falling for every man she met and being rejected.

Finally, in her mid-30s she met a guy named George Lewes. Lewes was estranged from his wife, but legally he was married. If Eliot went with Lewes she would be labeled an adulterer by society.

She’d lose her friends, be cut off by her family. It took her a week to decide, but she went with Lewes. “Light and easily broken ties are what I neither desire theoretically nor could live for practically. Women who are satisfied with such ties do not act as I have done,” she wrote.

She chose well. Her character stabilized. Her capacity for empathetic understanding expanded. She lived in a state of steady, devoted love with Lewes, the kind of second love that comes after a person is older, scarred a bit and enmeshed in responsibilities.

He served her and helped her become one of the greatest novelists of any age. Together they turned neediness into constancy.

Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self.

But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me?

How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs? (And discovering this talent is the  hardest of jobs)

Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding — by keeping a journal or making art. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.

The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative. They are not really living for happiness, as it is conventionally defined.

They see life as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.

This is a philosophy for stumblers. The stumbler scuffs through life, a little off balance. But the stumbler faces her imperfect nature with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness.

Recognizing her limitations, the stumbler at least has a serious foe to overcome and transcend. The stumbler has an outstretched arm, ready to receive and offer assistance.

Her friends are there for deep conversation, comfort and advice.

External ambitions are never satisfied because there’s always something more to achieve.

But the stumblers occasionally experience moments of joy. There’s joy in freely chosen obedience to organizations, ideas and people. There’s joy in mutual stumbling.

There’s an aesthetic joy we feel when we see morally good action, when we run across someone who is quiet and humble and good, when we see that however old we are, there’s lots to do ahead.

The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be.

Unexpectedly, there are transcendent moments of deep tranquillity. For most of their lives their inner and outer ambitions are strong and in balance.

But eventually, at moments of rare joy, career ambitions pause, the ego rests, the stumbler looks out at a picnic or dinner or a valley and is overwhelmed by a feeling of limitless gratitude, and an acceptance of the fact that life has treated her much better than she deserves.

Those are the people we want to be.

Sara Sibai  shared this link on FB
What kind of adventures produce goodness, rather than build résumés?|By David Brooks


Egypt is turmoil: And Obama goes golfing, and Kerry goes fishing?

Truth about Egypt slips out: New York Times shocker

Have you noticed the silence, the casual indifference, of the Obama administration since the Egyptian army shoved President Mohammad Morsi from office in a military coup that gets bloodier by the day?
That is what you are supposed to notice. Barack Obama goes golfing as Cairo descends into violence. Secretary of State John Kerry goes sailing in Nantucket. Neither has anything of importance to say about the events in Egypt — the chaos engulfing the nation.
We’re just bystanders, and those poor Egyptians — we hope they can sort themselves out. These guys play a pretty fair hand a lot of the time, but they have overplayed this one.
Anyone who thinks the U.S. is not complicit up to its eyebrows in the Egyptian army’s unlawful coup needs a refresher in our history.
Enlarge David Brooks, Thomas Friedman   (Credit: AP/Nam Y. Huh/Zsolt Szigetvary/Reuters/Carlo Allegri)
It is now common currency to say that Morsi, who served just a year after he was legitimately elected in June 2012, failed some kind of democracy test. He did no such thing.
There was a test, but the failure belongs to Washington. (Not a failure, but a decision to fail the Moslem Brotherhood experience)
The US professes to like democracies all over the planet, but it cannot yet abide one that may not reflect America’s will. I have not written anything new just now.
Just in some of our lifetimes we have Italy’s elections in 1948 (corrupted) and many, many Japanese elections — generations of them. Then there’s the nastier stuff: Mossadegh in Iran, Arbenz in Guatemala, Lumumba in Congo, Sukarno in Indonesia, Allende in Chili, and so on.
But to say it is an old story is precisely what is so disturbing, not to say disgraceful, about the coup in Egypt and America’s part in it.
The Arab world (a quarter of which abides in Egypt) is struggling toward a kind of democracy that will arise from Islamic culture and civilization.
This is why the Arab Spring, as it commenced in early 2011, remains so promising. One embraces the prospect of something new. Morsi made a thousand mistakes.
There was political immaturity (hardly surprising after three decades of U.S.-backed dictators), there was the seeking of partisan advantage, there was sectarian exclusion, there was the defensiveness and overcompensating of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s party, after long years of persecution.
Egypt’s first properly elected government was bound to be something of a dog’s dinner, as the English say.
But search as one may, there is nothing on the list that warranted a military coup. And this accounts for the cat-ate-the-canary bit the Obama administration is asking us to accept.
What Washington truly does not want is an elected Islamic government, and this is written all over what the Obama administration has just taken part in.
There is nothing so honorable as a statement of policy — Where is Edward Snowden now that we really need him? — but there are footprints galore. There is the nomenclature, for instance. When is a coup not a coup? When it is against U.S. law to support one, and when the White House and Congress want to continue sending $1.5 billion in aid to the Egyptian military.
So Egypt has not had a coup, somehow — never mind that the law is being broken. Americans are actually invited to accept this, and many do. It makes you think P.T. Barnum had it right all along. Now you have to listen to Obama.
Here is all Obama has had to say since Morsi’s July 3 exit: Egypt’s army should move “quickly and responsibly” to restore “full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible.” (Lately, Morsi should be set free…) Can you believe it?
Not “the Morsi government,” which of course was civilian and democratically elected, but “a government.” You see where the White House is headed on this? Hacks like me call minute-to-minute accounts of events “tick-tocks,” and the New York Times did one from Cairo in its edition last Sunday, four days after Morsi’s ouster.
I wonder if the commissars are upset. Buried in the details is a plain and simple re-creation of the moments during which Washington gave the Egyptian army authorization to move against its government. I read it, shocked by the momentary honesty in the coverage, and said, “This is a mistake that will not be repeated,” and it has not been.
We ought not get started on the journalism, except that we already have. The media’s cooperation in mystifying the perfectly obvious is not short of stunning, and much or most of the blame must fall, sorry to say, to the Times.
Here is a Times correspondent publishing on July 5: “But the flurry of White House meetings and phone calls served to underscore the lack of leverage the U.S. has over Egypt, once a crucial strategic ally in the Middle East but lately just another headache.” How do these people hold their heads up? It is entirely a historical.
The media reported Hosni Mubarak’s fall the same way two years ago — as if the U.S. had just realized its 20-year client was in office. We must treat the man to the history text of his choosing. Now we read that the Morsi government and the Muslim Brotherhood are making “claims to legitimacy” (the Times, July 8).
This kind of phrasing is handled like radioactive material at the Times. (I know; I once worked there.) There are no accidents. This is part of how the U.S. intends to Not legitimize a legitimate government. There is nothing personal in this, but we have to end with a consideration of the shockingly bigoted column David Brooks published in the July 5 Times.
Morsi, you see, represented democratic process, which I had always thought was a pretty good thing. But no, we must judge leaders on the basis of “substance,” which is to say their values, and they have to match ours. That is how it works. Morsi came up short on substance. He had the values wrong. These kind of people need to be “investigated” before they are elected. (By whom is not noted.) You see, people holding Islamic beliefs are not capable of governing themselves. Egypt, for that matter, “lacks even the basic mental ingredients” to swing a democratic transition. Breathtaking.
In all probability I would not like Morsi personally. But I am for Morsi. I am for his Brothers. They represent the best thing the Arab Spring has yet achieved — the start of an essential process — and the U.S. had no business tearing it down, especially in so underhanded a fashion.
(I strongly doubt it that Egypt army would have fomented the coup if the people refused to go out on mass to demonstrate their displeasure over the Moslem Brotherhood experience and brand of democracy. The US would have not dared this time around to order a military coup without the acquiesce of the Egyptian people)
Note 2: Patrick Smith is the author of “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” was the International Herald Tribune’s bureau chief in Hong Kong and then Tokyo from 1985 to 1992.
During this time he also wrote “Letter from Tokyo” for the New Yorker. He is the author of four previous books and has contributed frequently to the New York Times, the Nation, the Washington Quarterly, and other publications.                            More Patrick L. Smith.            

“I refuse to represent these 49% leeches…of non-tax paying Americans…”

Actually, the citizens who enjoy some kind of social benefits and government coverage are about 10%, and they are the elderly, the retired, and the utterly destitute…( Far behind the rate of 40% in the western European States)

When the presidential candidate Mitt Romney voiced his opinion in a secret meeting with the rich contributors: “I refuse to represent these 47% leeches…of non-tax paying Americans…” he had no idea that it was being filmed and recorded.

Romney went on to blurt out: “These subclasses of citizens consider themselves victims and refuse to shoulder their responsibilities and carry on a decent life…”. Romney was sending the strong message:

“I am one of you elites, and I feel most comfortable to converse with the rich elite classes. I am at the same wavelength with your concerns, and I will promote your ideology that unless the US citizen behave and act as a liberal capitalist, this citizen cannot be valued and considered to enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as we the elite Americans…”

This number of 47% is a symbol. And it means: “As long as the majority of Americans (53%) are above the (high median income) and able to pay taxes, the US is all right, and particularly the Republican Party…and the remaining so-called citizens can go to hell and good riddance of these poorer US citizens…”

Mind you that Romney is running an enterprise that was founded by money laundering gangs, and he is practically illiterate and has no clues in foreign policies…

The very conservative critics David Brooks commented that “Romney does not understand the American culture…and has forgotten the social contracts that the US has engaged itself to…”

And the other conservative commentator Bill Christol said: “Romney is a total ignorant and overbearing candidate…”

2. Romney paid a quick visit to Israel to amass some funds for his campaign and to woo the US Jews. And what was the price for sucking up to the Jews? “Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel” Romney declared. As if he has no idea that the US embassy is located in Tel Aviv and the UN and the US never agreed to his wishful thinking.

Romney is considering himself as defacto President, a dictator for the duration of his term, and he has no concerns for the opinions and decisions of the Senate, the Congress and the US people…

And Romney goes on: “The Palestinians are no people, they don’t want peace with Israel, and they want to destroy Israel, and their very low standard of living is proof enough that they should be occupied by Israel and be under mandated powers…”

3. And what about Iran? “If I was ruling radical Iran, I would give Hezbollah of Lebanon radioactive materials and drop them on Chicago and threaten the US with an atomic bomb if the US refuses to desist from the embargo… I will bomb Iran and wipe out those dirty Iranian people…” 

4. What about the safety in commercial airplanes? “If there is a fire in the airplane, what can you do? You cannot go to the rear of the craft, open a window and inhale some fresh air. It is such a dangerous place to be in…” The US people should now sleep at ease: Romney will pressure the airline companies to have a few windows designed to be opened in dangerous situation, so that the passengers die from trampling, or being sucked outside, as a result of too much inhalation of the freshest of air…

Should be very exiting moments to watch the coming media confrontations between Obama and Romney? And what Romney has left in his bag of bunches in non-sense and stupid opinions and arguments?

Is it time to reconsider the dismantling of the two-party system so that the people won’t have to voting for the “Lesser of two evils?”

An entire Decade Lost? Opportunities, Peace…

“The scary part is the political class inability to think about the economy in a realistic way” Walter Russell Mead. The world economy has many rigidity, and the worst ones are in people’s heads.

Before I express what the world community missed in the last decade and what problems have not been exposed for serious resolution, it might be relevant to post what DAVID BROOKS published in Sept. 26, 2011 under “The Lost Decade?”  on the missed opportunity to reform the financial crisis (I edited slightly the article)

“If you want a big swig of despair, listen to the people who know something about the global economy. Roger Altman, a former deputy Treasury secretary, is arguing that America and Europe are on the verge of a disastrous double-dip recession. Various economists say it will be at least another three years before we see serious job growth. Others say European banks are teetering, probably early next year.
Walter Russell Mead, who teaches foreign policy at Bard College, recently laid out some worst-case scenarios: “It is about whether the international financial system will survive the next six months in the form we now know it. It is about whether the foundations of the postwar order are cracking in Europe. It is about whether a global financial crash will further destabilize the Middle East. …
It is about whether the incipient signs of a bubble burst in China signal the start of an extended economic and perhaps even political crisis there. It is about whether the American middle class is about to be knocked off its feet once again.”

The prognosis for the next few years is bad with a chance of worse. And the economic conditions are not even the scary part. The scary part is the political class’s inability to think about the economy in a realistic way.”

This crisis has many currents, which merge and feed off each other. There is the lack of consumer demand, the credit crunch, the continuing slide in housing prices, the freeze in business investment, the still hefty consumer debt levels and the skills mismatch, regulatory burdens, the business class utter lack of confidence in the White House, the looming explosion of entitlement costs, the public’s lack of confidence in institutions across the board…

No single one of these “currents” prolongs the crisis: It is the product of the complex interplay between them. The crisis is an emergent condition, even more terrible than the sum of its parts.

The “ideologues” who dominate the political conversation are unable to think in holistic, emergent ways: They pick out the one factor that best conforms to their preformed prejudices and, like blind men grabbing a piece of the elephant, they persuade themselves they understand the entire problem.

Many Democrats are predisposed to want more government spending. So they pick up on the low consumer demand factor: Increase government spending and that will pump up consumer spending.  When President Obama’s stimulus package produced insufficient results, they didn’t concede that maybe there are other factors at play, which mitigated the effects. They just called for more government spending. To a man in love with his hammer, every problem requires a nail.

Many Republicans, meanwhile, are predisposed to want lower taxes and less regulation. So they pick up on the low business investment factor:  Cut taxes and Reduce regulation… (but don’t touch the military budget)…And All will be well.

Both orthodoxies take a constricted, mechanistic view of the situation. If we’re stuck with these two mentalities, we will be forever presented with proposals that are incommensurate with the problem at hand. Look at the recent Obama stimulus proposal. You may like it or not, but it’s trivial. It’s simply not significant enough to make a difference, given the size of the global mess.

We need an approach that is both grander and more modest. When you are confronted by a complex, emergent problem, don’t try to pick out the one lever that (you think) is the key to the whole thing. There is no one lever. You wouldn’t be smart enough to find it even if there was one.

Instead, try to reform whole institutions and hope that by getting the long-term fundamentals right, you’ll set off a positive cascade to reverse the negative ones.  (How about we endeavor to) simplify the tax code; end corporate taxes, and create a consumption tax?

Reshape the European Union to make it (either more unified or less), but not halfway as it is now. Reduce the barriers to business formation. Reform Medicare so it is fiscally sustainable. Break up the banks and increase capital requirements. Lighten debt burdens even if it means hitting the institutional creditors.

There are six or seven big institutions that are fundamentally diseased, from government to banking to housing to entitlements and the tax code.

The Simpson-Bowles report on the deficit was an opportunity to begin a wave of institutional reform. But that proposal died because our political leaders are too ideologically rigid to take on big subjects like tax reform, which involve combining Republican and Democratic ideas. The failure to seize that moment was one of the Obama administration’s gravest errors.” End of article

The article approached the financial missed opportunities for serious reforms, and this crisis didn’t emerge in the last decades, but at least three decades ago.  The developed States knew the seriousness of the fast arriving economic and financial crises, and all they did was launching preemptive wars to throw dense smokescreens on the real monster trouble facing world community, and mainly to taking the lower middle class people off the unemployment streets and into the military… 

What was supposed to be “fighting terrorism” turned out something different altogether: Instead of eradicating the basic factors that initiated and encouraged “terrorist activities”, mainly illiteracy, poor economic development, lack of investing in human development indicators of infantile mortality…and cleaning up the growing environmental degradation, water pollution, and nuclear disasters…, endemic famine plaguing many regions in the worlds, focusing on taming curable deseases…the US went on a “quick preemptive war” in Iraq that dragged on for a decade, leaving behind it over one million of Iraqis dead and severely injured and plaguing the “Greater Middle East” in greater instability…

Instead of focusing on the factors that hurt world community, the US wanted to blackmail China by physically occupying the oil fields in Iraq…

The European Union had to hastily agree on the common Euro currency because it knew that the timing for declaring the world financial crisis was in the hand of the US, and it wanted not to be harassed one individual State at a time when the US blow the cover…

Europe is taking things seriously and agreeing on difficult medicines to taking: Nuclear power plants are being phased out, environmental problems are tackled in earnest, and frequent meetings among their leaders are common events…, but what the US and China have been doing?

China and India are polluting the environment, water sources, and ocean bays, consumer cars… to unprecedented levels, and still claiming to be treated as developing countries in order to catching up with the developed nations in pollution conditions…

The US is trying hard to throwing more smokescreens in order to avoid dealing with its “liberal capitalist” system: Occupy Wall Street protest came to dismiss focusing on further creation of smokescreens and tackling the main problems for serious resolutions…




February 2023

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