New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote in 2015 about two kinds of virtues.
“Resume virtues” are traits we list on resumes—leadership, initiative, self-discipline, people skills, etc. They comprise a list of what we can do.
But most never consider a second set, something Brooks labeled “eulogy virtues.”
Over my career, I have presented the “message” at funerals. I usually meet with the family with a simple question in the back of my mind. “Who was this person?
Those are eulogy virtues, those things the preacher says at your funeral.
And it is a different list. Think about this list: kindness, compassion, faith, devotion. No one says, “they were punctual” at a funeral. They are remembering a person and who they are. While resume virtues describe what you do, eulogy virtues flesh out who you are.
What are your eulogy values?
We find it hard to describe our own lives. We hide behind our accomplishments, not our identity.
In a recent Bible class I taught, we studied a list of Peter’s projects for Christians.
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” (2 Peter 1:5–7)
Peter speaks of eulogy virtues…things like courage, faith, and love. But he says more.
They are a process, not a destination.
“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8)
What we have now is not what we need to be. We either move forward or lose ground. As the Brooklyn cop told the loiterer, “if you want to stand here, you have to keep moving.”
How do we coax eulogy virtues from our lives?
No one can become what he does not know. A field left fallow grows weeds, not corn. What do you want in your life? What do you want your kids or grandkids to remember?
Peter’s list is comprehensive. You can start there.
No one grows by accident. People develop because they want to. That’s one reason Peter puts the list there. The satisfied is the captive of evil, never good.
Make a plan. How can you be kind this week? What will you do to become that? Or how about self-control? Or wisdom? Focus part of your life on developing that trait.
How did you do?
One participant in my class came to me after class because she did not want to make her comment to the class. I wish she had because it had great power. She said, “to do this make requires us to examine parts of our lives we don’t want to see.”
That’s reflection. What do I see? Do I want to see my life “warts and all?” Are you willing to go into your soul and see the darkness as well as the light?
Benjamin Franklin knew how important it was. As a young man, he decided he wanted his life to reflect eulogy virtues. He chose temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, trans quality, and chastity. Upon hearing of his experiment, a Quaker friend suggested a thirteenth—humility, lest he became arrogant of his achievement.
He would assign each month a virtue. Each morning he would make a plan, and each night he would review it for progress or lack of progress.
Franklin was who he was, and you and I are our own people. How will you look at your life? You can write a journal. If brave enough, find a trusted friend who will give you perspective.
You have to see the dirt to clean it off.
One day someone will ask your family and friends as grief encircles them, “what was he like?” That’s when the eulogy virtues become words.
Make them more than words. Take the rest of your time to make sure they have something worthwhile to say.