Habits of Excellence

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

We’re familiar with the quote, widely attributed to Aristotle. But it was Will Durant who summed Aristotle’s ideas and wrote the following:

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; ‘these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions’; 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 or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.”

With the concept of excellence on my mind all week, I researched what others had to say on the topic. It didn’t take long to wonder, “Who am I to weigh in on the topic, compared to those great minds?” Eventually, I realized we all are looking for relevance to our own lives; we all need to reconcile others’ ideas to personal experiences. Beyond that, it’s too late; I already weighed in with “Excellence and Success.” I’m just relieved I wasn’t out in left field—it fits in nicely with Aristotle’s observations.

It was another of Aristotle’s quotes that affirms those of us who are less brilliant:

“It is simplicity that makes the uneducated more effective than the educated when addressing popular audiences.”

There is a time for every purpose: a time for simplicity and a time for profundity; a time for brevity and a time for elaboration; a time for touching the surface and a time for depth. Thank God for pragmatic folks as well as brilliant minds; for the abundance and variety of formats by which we are enlightened, affirmed, encouraged, and emboldened.

(Source: Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers (1926) [Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books, 1991, ISBN 0-671-73916-6] Ch. II: Aristotle and Greek Science; part VII: Ethics and the Nature of Happiness: The quoted phrases within the quotation are from the Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, 4; Book I, 7. The misattribution is from taking Durant’s summation of Aristotle’s ideas as being the words of Aristotle himself.)


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