Great examples of people who have developed a strong character, and have achieved integration between their beliefs and actions. I particularly enjoyed:
- Montaigne and his relaxed approach to character analysis and development. He was pretty chill about the whole thing, understanding that we have faults and that’s part of life.
- There was a guy with a military service story that was interesting. An example of serving an institution as something that is larger than you and everlasting. Marshall.
- The concept of working in service of the work itself, a vocation.
An excerpt about that last point:
No good life is possible unless it is organized around a vocation. If you try to use your work to serve yourself, you’ll find your ambitions and expectations will forever run ahead and you’ll never be satisfied. If you try to serve the community, you’ll always wonder if people appreciate you enough. But if you serve work that is intrinsically compelling and focus just on being excellent at that, you will wind up serving yourself and the community obliquely. S vocation is not found by looking within and finding your passion. It is found by looking without and asking what life is asking of us. What problem is addressed by an activity you intrinsically enjoy?
Kindle Notes and Highlights
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They possess the self-effacing virtues of people who are inclined to be useful but don’t need to prove anything to the world: humility, restraint, reticence, temperance, respect, and soft self-discipline.
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Montaigne once wrote, “We can be knowledgeable with other men’s knowledge, but we can’t be wise with other men’s wisdom.” That’s because wisdom isn’t a body of information. It’s the moral quality of knowing what you don’t know and figuring out a way to handle your ignorance, uncertainty, and limitation.
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But we often put our loves out of order. If someone tells you something in confidence and then you blab it as good gossip at a dinner party, you are putting your love of popularity above your love of friendship. If you talk more at a meeting than you listen, you may be putting your ardor to outshine above learning and companionship. We do this all the time.
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from Immanuel Kant’s famous line, “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”
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A person does not choose a vocation. A vocation is a calling. People generally feel they have no choice in the matter. Their life would be unrecognizable unless they pursued this line of activity.
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were particularly brilliant or talented. The average collegiate GPA for a self-made millionaire is somewhere in the low B range. But at some crucial point in their lives, somebody told them they were too stupid to do something and they set out to prove the bastards wrong.
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The magnanimous leader is called upon by his very nature to perform some great benefit to his people. He holds himself to a higher standard and makes himself into a public institution. Magnanimity can only really be expressed in public or political life. Politics and war are the only theaters big enough, competitive enough, and consequential enough to call forth the highest sacrifices and to elicit the highest talents. The man who shelters himself solely in the realms of commerce and private life is, by this definition, less consequential than one who enters the public arena.
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Instead, change comes through relentless pressure and coercion. That is to say, these biblical realists were not Tolstoyan, they were Gandhian. They did not believe in merely turning the other cheek or trying to win people over with friendship and love alone. Nonviolence furnished them with a series of tactics that allowed them to remain on permanent offense. It allowed them to stage relentless protests, marches, sit-ins, and other actions that would force their opponents to do things against their own will.
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They knew that dramatic change, when it is necessary, rarely comes through sweet suasion. Social sin requires a hammering down of the door by people who are simultaneously aware that they are unworthy to be so daring. This is a philosophy of power, a philosophy of power for people who combine extreme conviction with extreme self-skepticism.
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She was profoundly influenced by a book titled An Inquiry Concerning the Origin of Christianity by Charles Hennell, which she bought in 1841 at the age of twenty-one. Hennell parsed through each of the Gospels, trying to determine what could be established as fact and what was later embellishment. He concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Jesus was divinely born, or that he had performed any miracles, or that he had been resurrected from the dead. Hennell concluded that Jesus was a “noble minded reformer and sage, martyred by crafty priests and brutal soldiers.”7
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People who see themselves as the center of their solar system, often get enraptured by their own terrible but also delicious suffering. People who see themselves as a piece of a larger universe and a longer story rarely do.
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Eliot was a meliorist. She did not believe in big transformational change. She believed in the slow, steady, concrete march to make each day slightly better than the last.
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The meaning of the word “character” changes. It is used less to describe traits like selflessness, generosity, self-sacrifice, and other qualities that sometimes make worldly success less likely. It is instead used to describe traits like self-control, grit, resilience, and tenacity, qualities that make worldly success more likely.
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The parental relationship is supposed to be built upon unconditional love—a gift that cannot be bought and cannot be earned. It sits outside the logic of meritocracy and is the closest humans come to grace. But in these cases the pressure to succeed in the Adam I world has infected a relationship that should be operating by a different logic, the moral logic of Adam II. The result is holes in the hearts of many children across this society.
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We are generally not capable of understanding the complex web of causes that drive events. We are not even capable of grasping the unconscious depths of our own minds. We should be skeptical of abstract reasoning or of trying to apply universal rules across different contexts. But over the centuries, our ancestors built up a general bank of practical wisdom, traditions, habits, manners, moral sentiments, and practices. The humble person thus has an acute historical consciousness. She is the grateful inheritor of the tacit wisdom of her kind, the grammar of conduct and the store of untaught feelings that are ready for use in case of emergency, that offer practical tips on how to behave in different situations, and that encourage habits that cohere into virtues.
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No good life is possible unless it is organized around a vocation. If you try to use your work to serve yourself, you’ll find your ambitions and expectations will forever run ahead and you’ll never be satisfied. If you try to serve the community, you’ll always wonder if people appreciate you enough. But if you serve work that is intrinsically compelling and focus just on being excellent at that, you will wind up serving yourself and the community obliquely. A vocation is not found by looking within and finding your passion. It is found by looking without and asking what life is asking of us. What problem is addressed by an activity you intrinsically enjoy?