– Dr C.K. Mathew, IAS (Retd)
How often we talk about achieving excellence in all that we do. Whether it is in our official work or our social duties, in the manner in which we conduct our lives or even in the superiority of our mental reflection, excellence is a much desired quality. The conundrum, however, is how does one define excellence? The much sought after, but elusive, excellence defies our powers of definition. But in the end, our search leads us to some comprehension of this mystery.
Profound men have deliberated on the matter and their thoughts lead to one conclusion: you cannot acquire excellence overnight, or over weeks, or even months. You cannot get up in the morning of a good day and announce to the world that from henceforth you shall practice excellence. Excellence grows and thrives over the consistently excellent way we live out our lives, over the decades of our consciously thoughtful and productive presence on this planet, in the manner in which we tread this Earth with responsibility and compassion. It is seeded by our true understanding of the place we occupy in the grand scheme of Life all around us; it grows as we learn to live in peace and understanding with each other; it thrives when we see all of us as children of God, fortunate and blessed at this moment of our conjoined lives.
In other words, right conduct generates excellence. We must act right in everything we do, but with the compassion to forgive the wrongness in the actions of others. In every breath we take, we must see the truth or the untruth that lies in others and act with the sure-handed rightness that we owe each other. In a world that may seem rudderless, and heading in no particular direction, we must find meaning within ourselves and in others. We must do it right in big things and small, not as an exception, but as the prevailing habit of our lives. And when we do things right repeatedly, in all our actions and reactions and interactions, and over and over again until it becomes as simple as breathing, then we will have achieved excellence.
None but Aristotle could have put it better:
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but rather we have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
So what does this mean? It means that only those who have strived for excellence over the days of their lives can make a claim on it. Others who have lived as they saw fit, cannot. The world is made of only two kinds then; those who search for excellence every day of their lives by their right conduct in all things they do; and those who do not act right and hence are not excellent.