Cultivating Your Inner Adam II

05/01/2015 11:43 am ET | Updated May 01, 2016

What's the most important thing that college students should worry about as they further their education and pursue the rest of their lives? It's in the form of a question, and that question is: Will I develop my Adam II?

Robert Benchley once wrote, "There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don't." I happen to be one of those dividers who see dualities everywhere. In my opinion, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik gave the best account of our individual duality in The Lonely Man of Faith (New York: Doubleday, 1965). I am grateful to David Brooks of the New York Times who introduced me to the great rabbi's work at a conference last year for college presidents.

According to Rabbi Soloveitchik, there are two sides to human nature, which he called "Adam I" and "Adam II." Adam I is majestic Adam. "Adam I wants to build, create, produce, and subdue the world. Adam I wants to have a great career and win victories."

On the other hand, Adam II is humble Adam. Adam II wants to be surrounded by love and security. "Adam II wants to feel and radiate joy. Adam II wants to live a life of virtue, not to do good but to be good, to have an inner soul that honors his God, creation, and one's own possibilities."

Adam II is hardly interested in being recognized by others. He wants to not only behave well, but to behave well for the right intrinsic reasons. He simply seeks to practice virtue and to be the person who pursues joy, not only happiness.

Rabbi Soloveitchik advocated that we are great individual dualities because we live in the contradiction between these two Adams. The two Adams are not reconcilable; as a result, we are forever caught in self-confrontation. The tension between the majestic Adam I and the humble Adam II tortures us; however, it also propels us, sometimes, to greatness.

Unfortunately, these days, we live in a society that nurtures only Adam I -- the external career Adam -- and neglects Adam II, the internal joyful one. Our meritocratic society encourages us to think about how to have a lucrative career, how to be admired by our peers, how to build and conquer, how to break the five-thousand friends' upper limit on Facebook, or how to expand our followers on LinkedIn or Twitter. But if you are only Adam I, you turn into a cunning self-preserving person who is adept at playing the game and who even treats everything as a game. People who live with this condition focus exclusively on the material world, on technology, and strategies for career advancement. Every day becomes a strategy session as they chart their course to success.

If all you have is Adam I, you lose the experience of inner joy, without which life becomes unbearable. I have noticed this phenomenon -- and have fallen into this trap -- myself. We often refer to this as the midlife crisis. Between 40 and 60, people's careers may be fine, but many of them have broken marriages, families, or relationships. They may have met their career goals but they have lost their spiritual energy and intellectual oomph. The worst examples are those of past candidates for political office whose apparent illusion of invulnerability had led them to misbehaviors that resulted in their withdrawal of candidacy. Their Adam II may not be completely dead, but like a garden, they left it untended.

So this is the real thing today's students need to face as they further their education: each needs to ask himself or herself, "Will I develop my Adam II every day? How will I live through the internal contradiction between worldly majesty and the moral humility?"

What is interesting about this self-confrontation is that Adams I and II live by entirely different logic. Adam I -- the building, creating, producing Adam -- lives by a clear-cut logic. It is the logic of business and economics: practice makes perfect, input leads to output, and effort leads to reward. By contrast, Adam II lives by an opposite moral logic. You have to give in order to receive. You have to be lost in order to be found (saved). Success leads to the greatest shortcoming, which is pride. Failure is postponed success. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself.

Just as students take courses to learn the logic of Adam I, they also need to consult certain timeless texts to understand the logic of Adam II. Many people acquire this understanding by reading the Bible, the Torah, the Qur'an, the Bhagavad Gita, the Analects of Confucius, the Buddhist texts, the writings of Baha'u'llah, and the like. A few of these books are part of my permanent library collection, and they have helped keep the logic of Adam II in front of me. Of course, understanding the logic of Adam II is a lifetime's work in itself.

These books may well be the right conversation-starters for that dialogue with Adam II. It's not a moment too soon to begin that exchange.

Luis Maria R. Calingo, PhD., is president of Woodbury University ( in Los Angeles and San Diego.