What to Live For and How to Live

The Humility Code from The Road to Character by David Brooks

Parker Klein ✌️
Published in
5 min readMay 22


1. We don’t live for happiness, we live for holiness

All human beings seek to lead lives not just of pleasure, but of purpose, righteousness, and virtue.

“People have a responsibility to become more moral over time” — John Stuart Mill

2. The long road to character begins with an accurate understanding of our nature, and the core of that understanding is that we are flawed creatures

We have an innate tendency toward selfishness and overconfidence.

We have a tendency to see ourselves as the center of the universe as if everything revolves around us.

We resolve to do one thing but end up doing the opposite.

We know what is deep and important in life, but we still pursue the things that are shallow and vain.

We know less than we think we do.

We give in to short-term desires even when we know we shouldn’t.

We imagine that spiritual and moral needs can be solved through status and material things.

3. Although we are flawed creatures, we are also splendidly endowed

We do sin, but we also have the capacity to recognize sin, to feel ashamed of sin, and to overcome sin.

We are both weak and strong, bound and free, blind and far-seeing.

4. In the struggle against our own weakness, humility is the greatest virtue

Humility is awareness that you are an underdog in the struggle against your own weakness.

Humility is an awareness that your individual talents alone are inadequate to the tasks that have been assigned to you.

Humility reminds you that you are not the center of the universe, but you serve a larger order.

5. Pride is the central vice

Pride blinds us to the reality of our divided nature.

Pride blinds us to our own weaknesses and misleads us into thinking we are better than we are.

Pride makes us more certain and closed-minded than we should be.

6. Once the necessities for survival are satisfied, the struggle against sin and for virtue is the central drama of life

No external conflict is as consequential or as dramatic as the inner campaign against our own deficiencies.

7. Character is built in the course of your inner confrontation

You become more disciplined, considerate, and loving through a thousand small acts of self-control, sharing, service, friendship, and refined enjoyment.

If you make disciplined, caring choices, you are slowly engraving certain tendencies into your mind.

You are making it more likely that you will desire the right things and execute the right actions.

If you make selfish, cruel, or disorganized choices, then you are slowly turning this core thing inside yourself into something that is degraded, inconstant, or fragmented.

You can do harm to this core thing with nothing more than ignoble thoughts, even if you are not harming anyone else.

You can elevate this core thing with an act of restraint nobody sees.

If you don’t develop a coherent character in this way, life will fall to pieces sooner or later. You will become a slave to your passions. But if you do behave with habitual self-discipline, you will become constant and dependable.

8. The things that lead us astray are short-term — lust, fear, vanity, gluttony

The things we call character endure over the long term — courage, honesty, humility.

People with character are capable of a long obedience in the same direction, of staying attached to people and causes and callings consistently through thick and thin.

People with character anchored by permanent attachments to important things.

9. No person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own

Individual will, reason, compassion, and character are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride, greed, and self-deception.

Everybody needs receptive assistance from outside — from God, family, friends, ancestors, rules, traditions, institutions, and exemplars.

10. We are all ultimately saved by grace

You just have to accept the fact that you are accepted.

Gratitude fills the soul, and with it the desire to serve and give back.

11. Defeating weakness often means quieting the self

Only by quieting the self, by muting the sound of your own ego, can you see the world clearly.

Only by quieting the self can you be open to the external sources of strengths you will need.

12. Wisdom starts with epistemological modesty

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.

The humble person understands that experience is a better teacher than pure reason.

13. No good life is possible unless it is organized around a vocation

If you serve work that is intrinsically compelling and focus on being excellent at that, you will wind up serving yourself and the community obliquely.

14. The best leader tries to lead along the grain of human nature rather than go against it

As long as the foundations of an institution are sound, he prefers change that is constant, gradual, and incremental to change that is radical and sudden.

In politics and business the lows are lower than the highs are high. The downside risk caused by bad decisions is larger than the upside benefits that accrue from good ones.

15. The person who successfully struggled against weakness and sin may not become rich and famous, but that person will become mature

Maturity is earned not by being better than other people at something, but by being better than you used to be.

It is earned by being dependable in times of testing, straight in times of temptation.

The nature person has moved from fragmentation to centeredness, has achieved a state in which the restlessness is over, the confusion about the meaning and purpose of life is calmed.

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Parker Klein ✌️

Codin' 👨‍💻 + oatin' 🥣. Formerly @Google @Qualcomm @PizzaNova. Building the best place to write *things* down: Twos (www.TwosApp.com)