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The moral bucket list

'People on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, "What do I want from life? They ask, "What is life asking of me? There is an aesthetic joy one feels when we see morally good action, when one runs across someone who is humble and decent, when one sees that, however old one gets, there is lots to do ahead. As career ambitions pause, the ego takes a backseat'

About once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all. When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought. It occurs to me that though I have achieved a decent level of career success, I have not achieved that generosity of spirit or that depth of character.

Lately, I have realised that I want to be a bit more like those people. I realised that if I wanted to do that, I was going to have to work harder to save my own soul. I was going to indulge in the sort of moral adventures that produce that kind of goodness. I was going to have to be better at balancing my life. It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues. The virtues on your resume are the skills that you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones talked about at your funeral, whether you were kind or brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

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We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the resume ones. However, our culture, and especially our educational systems, spend more time teaching the skills and strategies we need for career success than the qualities we need to radiate an inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character. So some time ago, I set out to explore how those deeply good people got that way. I do not know if I can follow their road to character, but at least I want to know what the road looks like. Their accomplishments amount to a moral bucket list, the experiences one should have on the way toward the richest possible inner life.

  1. Humility: Develop profound humility, which can be defined as an intense self-awareness from another-centred perspective.
  2. Self-Defeat: External success is achieved through competition with others, but the character is built during the confrontation with one’s own weaknesses.
  3. Dependability: People on the road to character building understand that no person can achieve self-mastery on their own. We all need redemptive assistance from outside.
  4. Energise Love: Parental love, for instance, is a kind of love that decenters the self. It reminds us that our true riches are in others.
  5. Turn your career into a calling: We all go into various professions for many reasons, like money, status, and security. But some people have experiences that turn their career into a calling whereby they are willing to work with anybody, compromise with anybody, and push through hesitations to become effective instruments of change.
  6. Take the Conscience Leap: Look out for the moment when you are ready to strip away all the branding and status symbols, all the prestige that goes with having gone to a certain school or being born into a certain family. Leap out beyond utilitarian logic and take a leap of faith.

People on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, “What do I want from life? They ask, “What is life asking of me? There is an aesthetic joy one feels when we see morally good action when one runs across someone who is humble and decent, when one sees that, however old one gets, there are lots to do ahead. As career ambitions pause, the ego takes a backseat. Such people look out at a picnic or dinner or a valley and are overwhelmed by a feeling of limitless gratitude and an acceptance of the fact that life has treated them much better than they deserve. These are the people I want to be!

DISCLAIMER: This article originally appeared in Arab News. Minute Mirror is republishing this piece for its readers, and purely for non-commercial purposes. The views expressed in this article belong to the writer and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Minute Mirror.

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