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New York Times columnist David Brooks speaks to hundreds of people in the Satellite Student Union of lessons he learned about character while writing his latest book “The Road to Character.” (Darlene Wendels/The Collegian)

New York Times columnist speaks at Fresno State

Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks spoke to a packed house of hundreds Tuesday evening at Fresno State’s Satellite Student Union, sharing anecdotes from his life and lessons he learned about character while writing his latest book.

“I have some remote links here — my father grew up in Chowchilla,” Brooks said. “I have to confess, my own childhood was somewhat different from this area — my father, his mom and brother moved to lower Manhattan, Greenwich Village — I never saw a cow until I was 16.”

“It was probably a little more left-wing than the Central Valley,” Brooks said to laughs. “My parents once took me to a ‘be-in’ in Central Park where hippies went just ‘to be.’”

“One of the things they did was set the garbage cans on fire and threw their wallets into it, to prove they didn’t care about money and material things,” Brooks said. “I saw a $5 bill inside of the garbage can, so I broke through the crowd, reached in and ran away.

“That was sort of my first step over to the right,” Brooks joked.

Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro invited Brooks to the university after reading Brooks’ latest book, “The Road to Character” and meeting Brooks at the Aspen Institute.

“I found the book and TED talk on the same subject compelling in many ways,” Castro said. “Especially its focus on the vital importance of ‘eulogy’ virtues.”

“As a student and practitioner of leadership, I began to explore how the ideas in the book connected to the powerful role that Fresno State and other universities play in developing the next generation of leaders,” Castro said.

Brooks also spoke up on humility and character, which are the topics his latest book deals with in its 320 pages.

“The Road to Character” deals with the two parts of the lives of public figures. The first part, which is focused on achieving wealth, fame, and status, and the second part, which is cultivating the ‘eulogy’ values of kindness and honesty.

Brooks encourages each person to balance both parts of their lives. In the book, Brooks goes through the personal experiences of Catholic labor activist Dorothy Day, President Dwight Eisenhower and others and details challenges each person overcame.

Brooks spoke about his desire to reach a spiritual inner light that came with those eulogy values.

“I’ve achieved way more career success than I ever thought I would but that inner light, I haven’t achieved that yet,” Brooks said. “I kind of believe there are four levels of happiness.

“The first is material pleasure. Then there’s ego happiness, from getting status.”

The third is the pleasure received from generosity, and the fourth is transcendance, an awareness of one’s place in the cosmic order.

“Levels one and two come naturally to us — we all want to achieve material pleasure and status,” Brooks said. “But level three and four are harder to get, a deep pleasure from serving others and a sense of transcendence.”

Following the lecture, Brooks took questions and signed books.

In addition to his column for The New York Times, Brooks is a regular guest on PBS’s “NewsHour” and NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

Brooks’ other books include “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement,” “Bobos in Paradise” and “On Paradise Drive.”

The lecture was sponsored by Fresno State’s Office of the President and Ethics Center, The Fresno Bee and Valley PBS.