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?






「『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。