For quite some time I have appreciated the remarkable insight of author and New York Times columnist David Brooks. In one of his op-ed pieces entitled, The Mental Virtues, Brooks raises this important question. “We all know what makes for good character in soldiers. We’ve seen the movies about heroes who display courage, loyalty and coolness under fire. But what about somebody who sits in front of a keyboard all day? Is it possible to display and cultivate character if you are just an information age jockey, alone with a memo or your computer?
Brooks is pointing to something I believe we think too little about, namely the way we think as we do our work. Brooks answers his question by making the point that thinking well in the midst of the bombardment of the information age is as courageously needed for our character formation as fighting under a hail of bullets. Brooks highlights the importance of intentional cultivation of virtues in our workplace such as love of learning, courage to hold unpopular views, humility and generosity.
I hear in Brook’s insightful words a similar echoing from the Apostle Peter whose vocation as a fisherman not only produced well-worn hands, but also virtuous character. Peter who experienced the transforming power of the Gospel, who knew what it was to be a partaker of the divine nature in Christ also exhorts us to grow in virtue. Peter writes, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue knowledge and knowledge with self-control, and steadfastness with godliness.”
When we embrace a Gospel faith that speaks to all of life our ensuing spiritual formation occurs in all of life—including our work. We were designed with work in mind and we spend a great deal of time doing our work. Are you thinking well at work? Do you see your work as a primary way you are being spiritually formed? A primary way your virtue and character is being forged? Are you seeing the inevitable difficulties and trials of your workplace as opportunities not only to serve others, but also to grow in your own virtue? Brooks ends his article, “Character tests are pervasive even in modern everyday life. It’s possible to be heroic if you’re just sitting alone in your office. It just doesn’t make for a good movie.”