Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Excellence is not an act, but a habit

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

Aristotle is saying we must make a habit of good behavior in order to be virtuous and have excellence. This makes me think of some who have spoken often on Facebook, other social media and in opinion pieces in our local newspaper. Words used in inflammatory messages become a habit if done often enough. 

We hear people say we want peace, we want love and gratitude to reign. But often those people are the ones who post mean-spirited graphics, or write hateful letters to editors calling them names and telling them to go back to where they came from.

I recently subscribed to the Graham Star because I have two friends whose articles appear there. The first time I read it, I was surprised at how viciously local people verbally attacked a man who represented his homeowners association at the county commission meeting.

He was told to go back where he came from although he has lived in the area for many years. The editor of the newspaper wrote a fine article defending the man and defending many people who had moved to Graham County and provided jobs and done other good works for the long- time residents. I commend you, Gary Corsair.

The shoe is also worn on the other foot sometimes when people move to this area and claim the people who live here are different, strange or dumb. Of course that is not true. Even in our little town we have highly educated women and men, but they don't wear their educations on their sleeves. You would never know who has a PhD and who became successful running his father's business. Newcomers say they miss having a Barnes and Noble or complain there is nothing to do here in the mountains. Locals have always found plenty to do here with church, school, music concerts almost weekly and our fine local stage performances. 

When I think about the division in our country, I realize that it festers within our towns, cities and in the rural areas. Sometimes it is due to  fear of those who are not just like us. We assume that if someone comes from far away, they  can't want and enjoy the same things we do.

If we act the way we want others to act toward us, maybe we can make a habit of being fair and we can learn the art of being honorable. If we talk about others in a way that is kind, especially in front of children, we can make that manner of speaking a habit and we won't have to even think about it. The children might make the same habit.

 In families where parents fear those who are different from them, that fear is  passed on to their children. Fear brings out anger and prejudice toward others. I hear my southern friends talk about people from up north like they are from Mars. We don't have that many differences.

Mannerisms and accents set us apart, but I have lots of good friends who did  not grow up in the south. We can have fun discussing our backgrounds and the ways we are similar as well as how we are different. But deep down my friends who came from Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, New York and other states have the same values as the good, decent people I know who grew up in Georgia and North and South Carolina.

As I try to  understand the anger and violence in our country, the road rage, the fear of people who don't look like us and hate for authority, I ponder on how we, the people, can change those things. Maybe if we tried to put ourselves in the shoes of the people we feel are not up to our standards or our expectations?

When someone speaks from fear and anger, maybe we could discipline ourselves to refrain from reacting the same way. Why is that person afraid and why is he angry? I am not sure some folks even know why or to whom that anger should be directed.

In a road rage killing of a young child this week, perhaps the angry man would not have gotten out of his car and shot into the woman's car if she had not responded when he honked his horn. She thought he was angry because of her slow driving. If she had not honked her horn. If she had just driven on and not responded, maybe he would not have exploded and shot at her car.

Practice mature and thoughtful behavior long enough it will become as natural as breathing. Neither of those people acted like mature adults. He was angry at her driving habits, and she reacted, not  like a mature adult, but like a kid when she honked her horn back at him. The child paid the price.

We are what we repeatedly do. If we continually strive for excellence in our lives, it will become our way of  life.

This could be a New Year's Resolution for those who make them.



Elephant's Child said...

Small steps. Essential steps.
I would really like it if we could view the world as a community. No us and them, but only us. And I firmly believe that our similarities are bigger than our differences.
And yes, I am a dreamer.

DJan said...

Thank you for this thoughtful post. I will try to cultivate peace around me and hope it spreads out from there. It's a scary time in the world, isn't it? :-(

Anonymous said...

Hi Glenda:

What a thoughtful and beautifully written piece you posted tonight about good behavior and even quoting from Aristotle, one of my science's father (zoology)! While I read your post I tried to reflect and soak up your good words. Yes, all of us need to heed your words. I have been on both sides of your example, an outsider coming into a new situation (many times as an AirForce brat) and as a small town inhabitant in Magnolia as people (often Yankees from up North - Ha!) came into our small town and seemed to always try to tell us how dumb we were or how we "should" be doing something differently! I smiled several times as I read your truthful words.

I vow to try to do better. After all, we are all in this together!

Thanks again for your beautiful and powerful words Glenda!

Glenda Council Beall said...

DJan and EC, Thanks for your comments. A friend of mine says once America was a melting pot, but now we are more a mixed salad. Jon ?? who had the Daily Show said the United States for two hundred years has done something that is totally unnatural. Human beings are tribal, but we have created a country where we welcomed people of all races and religions. It is amazing it has lasted this long.

Glenda Council Beall said...

Rob, Thank you for reading my blog and commenting. I can only guess what your life was like growing up in a military family, moving all the time.When I was young I didn't feel like I belonged because I was a country kid and not a town kid. My home town is known for its cliques, snobbery and such. Seems everyone is looking for someone to look down on, or at least it was that way when I lived there.
It has taken many years of living and meeting people from everywhere to see that most people are as nice to me as I am to them. Once in a while I meet a real "horses patoot" but now I try to understand why this person is so difficult or irritating. My salesman husband came in contact with some ugly acting people but he used to "kill them with kindness."
Once a customer ripped up Barry's brochure and threw it into the trash. Barry was not fazed. "I'll sell him sooner or later," he said. And eventually he did. It is hard to resist a nice friendly person who is only trying to help you and certainly not trying to do you any harm.