Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Moral Bucket List: 3 Life Lessons from Pinehurst

Brooks writes regularly for the New York Times
One of the best articles I've read in a long while is "The Moral Bucket List" by David Brooks. I think other people feel that same way too; it has been inspiring to discuss it with unlikely people in unlikely capacities. If you haven't read it, click here.

Brooks drew me in with his initial claim. It is an astute observation. He writes, "About once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light." Who doesn't want to be one of these people?

He describes them further.

"These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and 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 I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character."
So why write about them? Because like me, he wants to be like these type of people. And the good news is that these "great people are made, they are not born." 

It occurred to Brooks that in life, we are measured by two standards: resume virtues and eulogy virtues—those that we speak about when our time has come. We know which ones are more important but he believes our culture and educational system spend more time teaching skills and strategies for career success. However, the qualities that you need to "radiate an inner light" require inner work, and character development. So, Brooks names them for us. And the more I read, I more I thought to myself: many of these qualities can be acquired from the game of golf.
26 Women from the Olympic Club in SF faced off against NC women at the historic Pine Needles Golf Course
I just returned from a 6 day vacation to Pinehurst, North Carolina. I traveled with 26 women to play five rounds of golf. Some women played more, some less. I wish I had jumped in for 36 holes on Sunday. Way to go warriors that is. 

That much time committed to one sport revealed several of the morals on Brooks' bucket list. Perhaps you can determine how they apply to your sport. Maybe you play golf and will agree with my thoughts. Give them a shot. 

The first virtue he names should be the most obvious one of all: Brooks calls it...

"The Humility Shift."

Nothing keeps a person humble like the game of golf. Earlier this year, I played golf with a 72-year old woman who carried her bag for 18 holes. I used a push cart. She hit the ball farther and with more accuracy that anyone else in my foursome.  

At Pinehurst, our groups played in a number of games/competitions. During one round, a friend told me I scored a nine. I said 'no, I got an eight." It was a little bit awkward and uncomfortable to discuss what I scored on the hole. I try to count by the clubs I use, but when you use the same one twice to get out of two different bunkers, it's easy to lose count. She was right, and she was kind (sometimes certain virtues work in harmony with one another, sometimes not so much). She said "Are you upset?" I said "No, I'm not upset with you. I'm upset with myself. It bothers me that I can't keep track of my own strokes. That's upsetting to me."

Two holes later, the same friend said "nice par." I said "I didn't par, that was my fifth shot. I bogeyed." On this one she underestimated; how I wish she had been right. We were able laugh. 

The root of humility is humus which mean earth. It's why we have the expression "down to earth." Humble people are down to earth. They aren't inflated by a sense of self-importance. They realize we all have a few bad shots in us. And some more than others. #Humility.

Sunday on the historic #2

Self Defeat

Brooks states that "character is built during the confrontation with your own weakness." To play golf is to confront limitations on a regular basis. Every golfer knows exactly what his or her own weakness is and we only have so much control over "fixing it." We take lessons, we ask others for advice, we trouble shoot and we hope the golf gods are good to us. We also share the struggle.

On Sunday that struggle involved turtle greens and waste bunkers on Pinehurst #2. As I played, I remembered that golfing legends Payne Stewart and Phil Mickelson have played where I did and met their own struggles. It always helps to put a challenge in perspective; it can prevent self-defeat. Knowing those guys had walked with their caddies there before me was fun to imagine and kept me sane. 

Tiger Woods once said "play to your strengths." I agree, but the sport and life offer us opportunities to improve ourselves all the time. 

The Dependency Leap
Brooks writes, "people on the road to character understand that no person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. Individual will, reason and compassion are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride and self-deception. We all need redemptive assistance from outside."

The night before I went to Pinehurst, a friend warned me about my trip. He said "Wow, you haven't broken 100 yet and you're going to play golf for five days? Good luck." I knew I was in for a challenge, but his words were discouraging. Thank God for the Dependency Leap.

I played with some excellent golfers. So many of them were more than generous with their encouragement and "redemptive assistance." They saw my potential and helped me stay calm and focused when necessary. One golfer struggled to get out of the bunkers (we all do). A more veteran golfer heeded her to do it right. It wasn't about their score or rushing the hole. She wanted her to learn now so she could understand. It worked! Dependency isn't all that bad.

One of my favorite golfers, the late Payne Stewart is memorialized here. He won the 1999 US Open over Mickelson.
Brooks names three other virtues: Energizing Love, The Call within the Call and The Conscience Leap. For me to connect those to golf would be a stretch, but later this summer I might have the opportunity to gain more insight into those when I travel with 10 students to Camden, New Jersey. There, we will  stand with the poor and vulnerable, the elderly and disenfranchised, the sad and the lonely. Many of them radiate that inner light. I think that light shines brighter when its amidst so many struggles.That's Camden.

For many golf enthusiasts traveling to Pinehurst is on their life's bucket list. For me, it was a wonderful way to start summer and a thoughtful way to test out Brooks' "Moral Bucket List." In any given group, folks possess the eulogy virtues and the resume builders. This group was no exception. The game of golf was simply our paradigm. It certainly builds...and reveals character.

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