Chapter 28 Always excellence: why not?

第二十八章 何不永遠保持卓越呢?


28. Always excellence: why not?

I have the great honor of teaching across the socio-economic spectrum -- from the very rich to the more economically humble. To this end, I have been inside many, many homes. People are, in the main, tidy and well organized in their domestic life. Some individuals have great style having traveled to the far corners of the globe and others are more modest. Everyone wants decency and warmth in their private life. What I remarked on the other day, however, gave me pause?

I was in a brand-new condominium facing a freshly created park -- fountains, exotic trees and the like: truly images to enhance the mind. I rode the elevator up to the eleventh floor. It stopped and exposed the aforementioned view: spectacular! The front door opened; faux art-nouveau wallpaper greeted me, set off by a truly spectacular Czech chandelier: Chopin was playing in the background and everything smelt of lilacs, at least in my mind (at this point, my imagination was running full throttle).

As you can appreciate, the senses were seduced. After the pleasantries, I was ushered into the boy’s, overly large, bedroom. I was seated at a desk facing my young charge. During the lesson, my eyes chanced upon the room’s wallpaper: expensive and -- wait for it -- crooked! What? Yes, it was true: the room’s wall covering, as beautiful as it was, had been hung incorrectly. The designs, for all their intricacy, were not aligned. I could have done a better job – this I honestly believe.

How is this possible: how could I have paid this much money for a home and accepted less than excellent? Both parents were eminent doctors. One hoped that this lack of attention to detail did not extend to their professional lives. Probably not: we have a way of compartmentalizing our lives. But is this good? I, for one, think not! We must practice excellence in all aspects and at all times of our life. The key verb here is “practice,” defined by the Oxford-English dictionary as “to do something repeatedly to improve one’s skill.”

Now, there are two things to contemplate. Firstly: your response to excellence. We all have different standards. Secondly: you have to acknowledge a basic truism -- failure to strive for your prescribed level slowly lowers “your” standard over time, there is no question this is true. What is excellence?

“What can we learn from Aristotle (384 -322 BC) in a day when the question, ‘What is a good life?’ tends to provoke ridicule rather than reflection? According to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)1 scholar Dr. Leon Kass,2 Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics,3 known for its teachings on human virtue or human excellence, reveals many truths if approached with the right experience and attitude.

In elaborating on the connection between human flourishing and human excellence, Kass claims that human flourishing is ‘soul-ing well’ and ‘human-ing excellently.’ To flourish as a human, one must pursue human excellence, cultivating and exercising the virtues of character and intellect.

Eudaimonia, the goal of all our doings, is not a feeling but rather an activity, achieved in the life of action as we habitually strive toward the noble and the just. For Aristotle, an even greater eudaimonia is attained through the life of learning.

The peak of moral nobility is seen in Aristotle’s ‘great-souled man,’ who is the perfection of the human being in the realm of action. Dr. Kass offers Winston Churchill (1874-1965) as one example of a great-souled man.”4

Placed against this idea certainly must be the concept of “good enough”: I live a good-enough life, I have good-enough expectations and I want my life mission to be good enough. Most of us would disavow these statements. We would never visit a good-enough dentist, nor schedule an appointment with a good-enough physician. How then do we accept a level of mediocrity in our daily lives? I believe that it is in the little tasks that we practice our skill of excellence. A bathroom must be cleaned excellently, homework done excellently, a test written excellently, etc. All of this with the proviso that I judge my own excellence, but judge I must. I cannot consciously accept good enough. If I do, it is but a slippery slope to the bottom. The great historian and scholar, Will Durant (1885-1981) states a clear thought: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

This week, I had a small surgery. The attending surgeon had done the same procedure, according to him, over 60,000 times (Please take note of the number). I would venture to guess that my chances of a successful operation have been greatly enhanced by his expertise: what would you think? I rest my case for excellence.

28. 何不永遠保持卓越呢?

我很榮幸能夠在我的教學生涯中接觸各種不同社經背景的學生,有來自非常富裕的家庭,也有來自較窮困的家庭。為了教學的緣故,我拜訪過許許多多的家庭。大部分的人家中都是整潔有序的。有些人比較特別,曾前往世界各個角落旅行,其他人則過比較普通的生活。每個人都希望自己的居家生活過得體面,得到溫暖。然而,我前幾天看見的事情卻讓我對這個想法有所保留?

我當時在一棟全新的公寓大樓,大樓對面是一座新建的公園,裡頭有噴水池、奇特的樹木等等,這景象令人眼睛為之一亮。我搭乘電梯到十一樓,當電梯停下來時,眼前所見就是我剛剛提到的景色,簡直是太美了!電梯門開了,映入眼簾的是新藝術風格壁紙的複製品,一盞精緻的捷克風格吊燈更添加了情趣。背景播放的是蕭邦的音樂,而空氣中則瀰漫著紫丁香的味道,至少我心裡的感受是如此(此刻,我的想像力正全速運轉)。

你可以體會到這種感官的刺激。在寒暄之後,我被帶到男孩的臥室,他的房間大得誇張。我坐在一張書桌前,面對著我的學生。在教學過程中,我的目光恰好落在房間的壁紙上。這壁紙十分昂貴......但咦?怎麼貼歪了?我有看錯嗎?我定睛一看,確定沒有看錯。這房間裡的壁紙雖然很美,但是卻沒有貼好。壁紙上精緻的圖案並沒有彼此對齊。我真的覺得我都能貼得比這還好。

怎麼會發生這樣的事呢?付了這麼多錢買了這間公寓,怎能接受這樣不完美的裝潢?男孩的父母都是傑出的醫生,真希望他們在行醫時不會也這麼粗心大意、忽略細節。不過這樣的狀況大概不太可能發生,因為我們會將生活切割成不同的面向,私人生活與專業素養是兩回事。但這樣好嗎?我並不這麼認為!無論何時何地,我們都必須追求卓越,而關鍵就在於「練習」。根據牛津英語字典,「練習」的定義就是「反覆不斷地做某件事以增進自己的技巧。」

我們現在有兩件事需要深入思考。首先是你對卓越的態度。我們每個人對於卓越都有不同的標準。第二,你必須認同一個基本道理,若沒有努力達到你自己設定的標準,隨著時間過去,「你的」標準會慢慢降低,這個道理是毋庸置疑的。那什麼是卓越呢?

「『怎樣才是精彩的人生?』若這個問題往往會引來別人的嘲弄,而非讓他們反思,那現在我們還能跟亞里士多德(384–322 BC)學到什麼?根據美國企業研究院1學者利昂‧卡斯博士2的說法,若以正確的經驗與態度來看亞里士多德的《尼各馬科倫理學》3,可以從中得到許多真理,這本書出名的地方就是關於人類的美德或卓越這方面的教導。

卡斯博士對人類的發展與卓越之間的關聯有詳盡的敘述。他認為人類的發展是心靈探索與追求卓越的過程。為了自我成長,人們必須追求卓越,這可以藉由培養並實踐道德與理智的生活來達成。

幸福是我們日常生活的目標,這不是一種感覺,而是一種活動,是在我們反覆追求高尚和公正的行動中達成的。對於亞里士多德來說,透過終身的學習可以得到更多的幸福。

最崇高的道德體現在「心靈巨人」身上,亞里士多德認為這樣的人在行動上臻於完美。卡斯博士認為溫斯頓‧邱吉爾(1874-1965)就是一個例子。」4

而與這個概念相對的肯定就是「夠好」的想法:我的生活、我的自我期許與人生的使命都做到夠好的程度即可。大多數人都不會認同這樣的想法。我們絕對不會找一個差不多的牙醫,也不會找一位能力差不多的醫生看診。既然如此,為什麼我們在日常生活中卻能夠接受平庸呢?我認為,傑出是從這些日常小事的練習中積累出來的。打掃浴室一定要打掃得非常乾淨,作業一定要盡全力寫,考試時也一定要全力以赴等等。有了這個體認,我們一定評斷自己是否做到卓越的水準。我不能接受「夠好」的標準,要是我這麼做,我的標準就會一直往下滑至谷底。傑出的歷史學家和學者威爾‧杜蘭(1885-1981)曾指出:「人的特質是由平常反覆的行為所塑造出來的。因此,卓越不是一種行為,而是一種習慣。」

我這週動了一個小手術。為我做手術的外科醫生說,同樣的手術他已經做超過六萬次了(請注意這個數字)。我大膽地推測,有了他的專業加持,手術的成功機率大大提高了,您覺得呢?關於卓越,該說的我都說完了。