The season of graduation will begin in a few days. Commencement speeches will be delivered. Politicians, actors and media pundits will be asked to talk to new graduates about life and success, about happiness and character. One could easily question the competence and expertise of these “sages of our times” as some of them dish out easy platitudes and worn-out clichés. Every now and then some speaker hits the ball out of the park and the video goes viral on YouTube. Such a speaker was that professor who died of cancer a couple of years ago. He passed on genuine wisdom because he had come face to face with death and in the process with life itself.
As I was toying with these thoughts, I saw a TV interview of an author who has recently published an important book. Even though I have not read the book, I have gathered the main ideas of the book from various sources. The author, David Brooks, is a regular columnist for the New York Times, and his book is entitled, The Road to Character. I want to discuss one significant insight from the book.
Brooks distinguishes between two types of virtues. He calls them “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” Resume virtues comprise those character traits that help us beef up our professional resume. In an age of self-promotion we tend to emphasize those things that make us look successful. We are more worried about getting into the right college and landing the right job. Examples of resume virtues may be self-confidence and grit. Eulogy virtues, on the other hand, are those traits that people ascribe to us when they give our eulogy at our funeral. Brooks opines that those eulogy virtues are the ones that really matter. Humility and service are examples of eulogy virtues.
We arrive at the eulogy virtues through suffering. In his book, Brooks gives the example of Dorothy Day who lived a Bohemian life in the early years and then became a devout Catholic after having a baby out of wedlock. She arrived at her conversion through suffering which enabled her to come to a greater self-awareness. She chose poverty and celibacy in order to serve the poor and the needy in her Catholic Worker Houses. The author says that we need to fight the “self-satisfied moral mediocrity” of our age and build true character. In the book Brooks discusses the examples of many great historical figures including St Augustine and President Franklin Roosevelt.
Thinking about this interesting distinction between resume and eulogy virtues, I was remembering individuals who have touched and shaped my life. All of them embody the eulogy virtues. Among them my dear mother stands out. As we are celebrating Mother’s Day, please indulge me to talk about my mother.
My mom did not have a great professional resume. She was a very intelligent woman but she never went to college. After her high school graduation she was all set to study biology at the university. In 1947 it was a rarity for an Indian girl to go to college and her mom was one of those rarities. However, my grandparents received a marriage proposal from my dad and they accepted. My mom was married to my dad and she never went to college. She was a stay-home mom whose days were consumed in taking care of her seven children. Believe me, I did not make her life easy. She was a totally dedicated mother. She taught us to be loving and caring, treating everyone with respect no matter what their social status was. My mom was known for her kindness and humility. At her funeral Mass, the church was almost as full as it was at my father’s who had been a well-respected professor at a Jesuit University for four decades.
It is possible that some of our moms do not have great resumes. But they certainly embody great character. In this age of self-promotion and selfies, it is easy to forget that the virtues that pave the road to fulfillment and happiness are those that people will ascribe to us at our funeral. Our mothers give us a great example. Let us thank God for our moms.
Even as we worry about our children’s success in sports and academics, about getting them into the right college or getting that perfect job, let us concern ourselves more about building their true character. Let us hold up suffering as the path to true self-awareness. Let us teach our children humility by being humble. Let us teach them service by becoming servants to others as Jesus did.
May Mary, our Mother, whose month we celebrate, enable us to cultivate in ourselves the eulogy virtues!
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...