character and the second mountain

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Relaxing Music for the month: Healing Hands: Liquid Mind (12:01) –

During my ride yesterday morning, I decided to revisit the Philosophers Notes on David Brook’s two books, “The Road to Character” ( and “The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life” ( These are two of the notes that I found SO enthralling that I purchased the books to read – and found even MORE nuggets!

I would say that the information from these two books, especially The Second Mountain, have put me on a path to think LONG and HARD about character, purpose, faith, and community. They are definitely worth further exploration for those interested in such things. I will share a few of the nuggets that I resonated most with me, starting with Brian Johnson’s definition of character:

“Your character is a stamping tool that makes a distinctive mark. Your character makes an imprint on EVERY single moment of your life. And, every single moment of our lives gives us an opportunity to slowly reshape the dimensions of our stamping tool. Our character is engraved by a thousand small acts as we rewire our brains and essence and become a more noble version of ourselves.”

We are given opportunities to both build and display our character every moment of every day. It’s is the root of who we are as human beings. And, amazingly, it’s something that we don’t address in education, which is a crime on humanity. Character development needs to be the foundation of EVERYTHING we do in the world.

From the Road to Character and the chapter, The Summoned Life, there’s this:

“In this method, you don’t ask, What do I want from life? You ask a different set of questions: What does life want from me? What are my circumstances calling me to do? In this scheme of things we don’t create our lives; we are summoned by life. The important answers are not found inside, they are found outside. This perspective begins not within the autonomous self, but with the concrete circumstances in which you happen to be embedded. This perspective begins with an awareness that the world existed long before you and will last long after you, and that in the brief span of your life you have been thrown by fate, by history, by chance, by evolution, or by God into a specific place with specific problems and needs. Your job is to figure certain things out: What does this environment need in order to be made whole? What is it that needs repair? What tasks are lying around waiting to be performed? As the novelist Frederick Buechner put it, ‘At what points do my talents and deep gladness meet the world’s deep need?’”

In this particular note, he shares this related quote by Ryan Holiday, which addresses how you should go about doing what you being asked to do:

“According to Seneca, the Greek word euthymia is one we should think of often: it is the sense of our own path and how to stay on it without getting distracted by all the others that intersect it. In other words, it’s not about beating the other guy. It’s not about having more than the others. It’s about being what you are, and being as good as possible at it, without succumbing to all the things that draw you away from it. It’s about going where you set out to go. About accomplishing the most that you’re capable of in what you choose. That’s it. No more and no less. (By the way, euthymia means ‘tranquility’ in English.) …

So why do you do what you do? That’s the question you need to answer. Stare at it until you can. Only then will you understand what matters and what doesn’t. Only then can you say no, can you opt out of stupid races that don’t matter, or even exist. Only then is it easy to ignore ‘successful’ people, because most of the time they aren’t—at least relative to you, and often even to themselves. Only then can you develop that quiet confidence Seneca talked about.”

What is life asking of you? Are you willing to answer the call?

If these thoughts don’t get your brain going, check out these few pieces of wisdom from The Second Mountain:

“Every once in a while, I meet a person who radiates joy. These are people who seem to glow with an inner light. They are kind, tranquil, delighted by small pleasures, and grateful for the larger ones. These people are not perfect. They get exhausted and stressed. They make errors in judgment. But they live for others, and not for themselves. They’ve made unshakable commitments to family, a cause, a community, or a faith. They know why they were put on this earth and derive a deep satisfaction from doing what they have been called to do. Life isn’t easy for these people. They’ve taken on the burdens of others. But they have a serenity about them, a settled resolve. They are interested in you, make you feel cherished and known, and take delight in your good. …

Life, for these people, has often followed what we might think of as a two-mountain shape. They got out of school, they start a career, and they begin climbing the mountain they thought they were meant to climb. Their goals on this first mountain are the ones our culture endorses: to be a success, to make your mark, to experience personal happiness. But when they get to the top of that mountain, something happens. They look around and find the view . . . unsatisfying. They realize: This isn’t my mountain after all. There’s another, bigger mountain out there that is actually my mountain. And so they embark on a new journey. On the second mountain, life moves from self-centered to other-centered. They want the things that are truly worth wanting, not the things other people tell them to want. They embrace a life of interdependence, not independence. They surrender to a life of commitment.”

I love this! As I’ve mentioned in previous posts about this passage/topic, I believe that I’m on my second mountain, it’s just time for me to engage at a much deeper level. More coming on that soon. Are you on your still on the first mountain or have you started the climb to the top of the second mountain?

I’ll leave you with this last thought, where the author makes the distinction between happiness and (moral) joy:

“Happiness is the proper goal for people on the first mountain. And happiness is great. But we only get one life, so we might as well use it hunting for big game: to enjoy happiness, but to surpass happiness toward joy. Happiness tends to be individual; we measure it by asking, ‘Are you happy?’ Joy tends to be self-transcending. Happiness is something you pursue; joy is something that rises up unexpectedly and sweeps over you. Happiness comes from accomplishments; joy comes from offering gifts. Happiness fades; we get used to the things that used to make us happy. Joy doesn’t fade. To live with joy is to live with wonder, gratitude, and hope. People who are on the second mountain have been transformed. They are deeply committed. The outpouring of love has become a steady force.”

Check out the Philosophers Note on The Second Mountain for more details on making commitments to four specific areas in life: (1) vocation, (2) marriage/family, (3) philosophy/faith, and (4) community.

Awesome, awesome, awesome. No more going though the motions, my friends. It’s time to hunker down and REALLY do the work we are here to do, work that changes lives and makes an impact. Character, purpose, faith, and community that leads to moral joy! That’s what I’m talking about!


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