David Brooks puts his finger on an important point, one that another writer captured this way: “… Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.”
That writer, of course, was C.S. Lewis, describing Eustace Clarence Scrubb in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Both Brooks and Lewis explore how our technocratic, post-industrial society can produce men and women full of knowledge about exports and imports, drains and spreadsheets, but lacking a frame of reference for moral meaning and commitment.
Certainly, the mastery of subjects like accounting, patent law, venture finance or microeconomics has an important place in one’s professional development. But these subjects need to be connected to a broader moral framework.
In other words, moral development should be as important as professional development. A successful business man or woman (or non-profit executive or politician) needs an anchor in underlying values and moral commitments.
This requires understanding the sources of courage, self-sacrifice and humility, which entails more than reading, as Lewis put it, “books of information” full of “pictures of grain elevators.”
In reality, much of my work (and reading!) lately falls in the category of imports and exports and drains. The challenge is to faithfully pursue it while also situating it within the moral reference points that give meaning to the work, and I appreciated Brooks’ timely reminder about the importance of this task.
Joel Harris is a business consultant for a global corporation and is married to Kate Harris, Executive Director of The Washington Institute, with their three children.