No Comments on Excellence

(The following is copied from another blog)

The following quote is from John W. Gardner’s “Excellence: Can We Be Equal and Excellent Too?” (W.W. Norton & Company, 1961) pages 101-102 (it is still in print):

“We must expect students to strive for excellence in terms of the kind of excellence that is within their reach. Here we must recognize that there may be excellence or shoddiness in every line of human endeavor. We must learn to honor excellence in every socially accepted human activity, however humble the activity, and to scorn shoddiness, however exalted the activity. An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

Humble of course is “low in stature.” This says more about our culture than it does about the skilled trades such as plumbing. I have many friends who are excellent in the crafts. They make a decent living and seem to be happier than most. I think this is because they see and feel the results of their efforts immediately. The most skilled seem to fare better in rough times since the wealthy do appreciate skilled work and are willing and able to pay for such work.

My friends in the trades have told me quite directly and with good humor the things they will allow me to do in my home. They said anything else will waste my time and effort and will have to be redone. They prefer to do work right the first time, rather than resolve a mess made worse.

An apropos quote on obtaining excellence from Will Durant, page 61, The Story of Philosophy (also in print)

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly; ‘these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions’ [1]; we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit: ‘the good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life; … for as it is not one swallow of one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.’ [2]”

[1] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, ii, 4

[2] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, i, 7

Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.
Proverbs 22:29

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