“. . . there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.”
- Ecclesiastes 3:12
As my two sons’ respective high school graduations approached – by now, many years ago – I invited each one to dinner for one last father-son chat. In the course of those two evenings I recall asking each the same question, “What do you want to be?” Predictably both responded similarly with their career choice du jour – lawyer, architect, or whatever. Yes, I replied, I appreciate what it is you want to DO, but I’m asking what you want to BE. Puzzled at first each thoughtfully considered what I meant. Finally they similarly answered, “I want to be a good person.” Aha! And that was the point of the question.
In his newly released book The Road to Character, which I have just begun to read, New York Times columnist David Brooks refers to the two versions of the creation story in the Book of Genesis, arguing that each version represents Adam in a different light. Brooks calls them Adam I and Adam II. Adam I is driven by his own abilities with a desire to “build, create, produce, and discover things. He wants to have high status and win victories.” Adam II, on the other hand, “wants to embody moral qualities . . . to have a serene inner character, a quiet but solid sense of right and wrong – not only to do good, but to be good.” Brooks goes on to say, “While Adam I wants to conquer the world, Adam II wants to obey a calling to serve the world.” You get the distinction.
Reflecting on those two evenings with each of my sons, I now realize that my question, “what do you want to be?” provoked “Adam I” answers because our education system and our culture in general are so oriented around the virtues of hard work and personal achievement, and less so about the “Adam II” qualities of character and morality – not to mention failing to encourage young people to listen for and respond to higher callings.
My intention with my sons was not to de-emphasize Adam I as inferior to Adam II (nor do I believe it is David Brook’s intention). Rather, it was to encourage them to seek higher purpose in their work, whatever it is they chose; for fulfillment in life can only be found in serving God and doing good while we’re alive. And that’s the point!