On Friday, I talked about the Ethic of Character, which will become a recurring theme on this blog for the next while.
I wanted to visit the idea of Excellence a little farther, because it is one of the most important elements of having strong character, and what sets the ancient idea of Character apart from modern ethical systems.
Today’s belief systems rarely teach people to seek to make the most of themselves or their experiences. Quite the opposite, they usually give a method for creating “dos and don’ts” on the fly to help you avoid being a bad person, with practically no advice on being a good person. With the exceptions of Nihilism and Existentialism, just about every system of philosophy we have left in the world teaches us that all it takes to be a good person is to not do bad things.
I believe that there is a lot more to being a good person – it is why I started this project in the first place. I have seen so many men in my life who are happy to simply get by. They get up, they go to work, they come home and play a few video games, and struggle in their marriages and relationships, and often go to sleep unhappy and frustrated, then repeat the next day. Their work doesn’t mean much to them, and while their amusements make them happy for a little while there is always an undertone of discontent and loneliness to it.
It is a waste, because I have seen what men can become when they feel driven and genuinely connected in their lives, and it is stunning. I have seen men who are immune to stress, who command respect, and spend every day with a sense of joy and purpose. They never just “go through the motions.” Such Men command respect just through the way they are, and in doing so, they inspire others to be better, too.
I am turning myself into one of those Men. It is not an easy task: it requires a lot of introspection, discipline, and, at times, pain. And it is utterly worthwhile.
There is so much more to life that falls by the wayside if all you focus on is not doing “bad things.” I want to live my life well, so that whatever may come after I die, I can say that this one, unique, beautiful opportunity was not squandered in boredom, mediocrity, melancholy, desperation, or despair.
One of the things that has remained consistent across almost any of the great writers or thinkers on character was that the pursuit of Excellence was the key to a strong character. So long as a person had one thing they did well and strove to become ever better at, the rest of character would fall in behind it:
- A person who strives for excellence understands what it means to strive, and so has compassion.
- His Art, whatever it is, is of no value unless there are others to witness it and support him, and so he learns humility.
- Because the Excellent Person cannot learn everything, and has weaknesses that he accepts, and plays instead to his strengths, he must rely on others to help him where he cannot help himself, thus he learns trust.
- Devoting your life to excel in a single field requires the Excellent person to forever seek growth.
- This Excellent person must also find it within themselves to keep driven – they learn to cultivate passion.
- In time others come to trust the Excellent Person in his field, and will look to him when problems arise that are related to his field, and through this he learns leadership.
And if we accept this to be the case, then what we must do to grow our character first, is to explore our strengths and choose something at which we can excel.
In other words, you have to find your mission in life, that one thing you are passionate about and that suits your strengths and character and chase it hard and fast. All other things will fall into line afterwards, including the happiness and sense of community that comes with a strong character.
So that is my question for you for the day: do you know what your mission is? Is there something in your life you can chase and make your first priority? Is there something in your life that you could be happy exploring every facet of, and would be thrilled o be considered a premiere expert in?
If not, are you willing to begin exploring yourself to discover that for yourself?