“The Road to Character” by David Brooks

AUTHOR: David Brooks

AUTHOR: David Brooks

What does success mean to you? Does it have anything to do with money, fame or status? How we define success to important to building character. For instance, if having lots of money is important to you, then everything you do in your life will go towards wanting to make yourself rich. If fame is important, then that becomes your end goal. If you decided happiness or finding peace is your ultimate definition, then your life’s direction will move towards that pursuit. As humans, we need goals to be us driven and motivated but the actions we choose to take builds and defines our character, for better or for worse – and ultimately our pursuits may become an internal struggle especially when your moral compass is tampered.  

To help us tackle the qualities of success in our life, we recommend the book “The Road to Character: Learn how to make yourself whole” by David Brooks to support Chapter 4 “Know Thyself” of the Diplomatic Planner. If you’re a diplomat and told the world that you’re a diplomat, you are instantly seen as a success. Diplomats’ are perceived as intelligent, highly educated professionals who will do what it takes to pursue a highly challenging career. Diplomats’ are seen as wealthy individuals with a high status in society, and rarely mingle with ordinary people. But is this correct and what does this say about your character if this is the stereotype of a diplomatic career?

Modern day society has become very “me” obsessed. When we look at social media, it’s only about us rather than anything anyone else is doing. From selfies to self-obsessed problems, our society is become a mirror of self-promotion and “what I want”. This is not conducive of international relations. As diplomats, we cannot obsess about our place in the world, but that is how many diplomats are perceived by outsiders who know little to nothing about our trade.

Society wasn’t always this self-involved. Once upon a time, we embodied humility, honestly and faithfulness which were noble qualities that everyone valued. Now that social media has opened up another window into society, we must look within ourselves and think whether the qualities and values we share online truly reflect that person within. To understand this is to truly understand thyself which is what the Diplomatic Planner introduces in Chapter 4.  

We all have multiple personalities in various social circumstances. We become completely different people at work versus the people we surround ourselves with at home. In his book, Brooks talks about competing personality types called “Adams”. “Adam I” is the alpha personality that we project outwards that comfortably supports society’s definition of success such as having a career, money and social status. “Adam II” is an introvert that society tries to bury. This personality type has a strong moral compass and strives to be more virtuous. Think about it. When we look at our media and what image is portrayed very strongly into the world, do we see more money and fame, or do we see more kindness, devotion and honesty? When was the last time you saw an ad urging you to be more honest? The first personality type clearly overshadows the other. We are pushed into living for our own desires. The – “you’re unique”…. “follow your dreams”… “don’t accept limitations”. We are all guilty of this.

Such traits aren’t always a bad thing but we do need balance in our lives so that we can shift gear towards a focus on humility and deservedness. The author speaks at great lengths using excellent examples from various eras about these two shifting personality types. It is worth an in-depth analysis. 

As society is currently encouraging for us to follow our dreams, we must not lose sight of deeper principles that keep us grounded. Being a diplomat is more than travel, living tax-free and swimming among high society nobles. When choosing a diplomatic career, it should be deeper than this. The desire to support and protect our people, to break negative stereotypes and misconceptions about our country and way of life, to support international goals rather than just national interest, to keep the world connected in the most positive way. As a result, we need to invest more time in developing our sense of love, loyalty, and empathy for one another that isn’t simply self-serving. Our lives resolve around how we achieve instead of why we achieve. If we remember why we want to become diplomats, why we want to move into international relations, why are doing the things we are doing, you will find value in your life and your motivation to continue when life throws challenges will have roots. 

If we focus on investing our time in becoming well-rounded, balanced people, everyone will benefit. The long road to character begins with understanding that all humans are flawed creatures. By embracing some of our flaws and shortcomings, we embrace deeper social values like connection and love. As the Diplomatic Planner introduces, understanding your flaws, shortcomings and weaknesses helps to build character. We shouldn’t always go in and fix our weaknesses. Weaknesses can’t always be turned to strengths. We are all built to do specific jobs in the world. If we all had the same skills and personality, society and humankind will never evolve.  

The author emphasises that we turn our focus from narcissistic self-love to sharing our struggles and use these lessons to process and overcome individual flaws. Seeing someone’s success will never truly inspire us if we don’t know the full story of their journey and challenges along the way.  

As Brooks says: “Only by freeing yourself from pride can you walk the road of character”. 

It is truly important that as diplomats, we ditch our pride. Pride makes us cruel and coldhearted, thinking we are masters and deserved the position we are in. Pride makes us blind to the plight of others and it creates an “us versus them” division. I’ve seen so many diplomats put themselves in that position because they are proud to represent their country, but forget the underlying reasons that got them there and why they are in that position.  

Diplomacy can be very humbling if we let ourselves be open to deeper qualities. Let’s remember to embrace humility and remember that our work in international relations affects others more than it affects us.  

“The Road to Character” is recommended for the purposes of the Diplomatic Planner. The Diplomatic Planner is a 12-month career development for diplomacy and internationals for professionals looking to explore or grow their expertise in the field. Both books are available for purchase via Amazon. For further recommendations, insights, case studies and practicable worksheets, please join the Grassroot Diplomat Online Academy via: www.grassrootdiplomat.org/register