I CHOSE to write on this concept, excellence because of its relevance in contemporary society, and as well, the importance I personally attach to it. It is a concept well appreciated by all and sundry, but oftentimes difficult to be achieved by all.
The concept, ‘excellence’ is a generic concept. By generic, I mean it cuts across every area of human endeavors. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 5th edition defines excellence “as the quality of being extremely good or outstanding.” It involves exceptionality. Wikipedia Dictionary sees excellence as a talent or quality which is usually good and so surpasses ordinary standards. It is seen as a beacon for measuring standard of performance.
A Greek word associated with excellence is arête which in other words, implies an outstanding fitness for purpose. The usage of the concept was found in the works of the ancient Greek philosophers, namely; Aristotle and Homer. They applied the concept to explain the human abilities and potentialities in contradiction to laziness, inactiveness or moral decadence in human conduct. Arete is taken to mean excellence of any kind. It may also be applied to moral virtue. Arête as it was used means the fulfillment of purpose or function: the act of living up to ones full potentials. Homer used it to indicate ones highest effectiveness, that is, the use of all faculties be it strength, bravery, and wit to realize ones ambitions or goals in life. In this case, arête involves using all the potentialities and abilities given to one or individuals to achieve success, or rather, be successful in ones endeavour. With regard to knowledge, arête is linked to human knowledge just like when Aristotle said that virtue is knowledge, one can still say that arête is knowledge. Arête, as observed, has the root as the word, aristos, which was interpreted to mean superlative ability and superiority. We can rightly say that an excellent person has a superlative ability. Oftentimes, most excellent individuals or persons are referred to or considered as geniuses.
Excellence: A Virtue and Value.
Having gone thus far, it is really proper to consider excellence as a virtue as well as a value. Virtue means a behavior that shows high moral standard or goodness, while value is the worth of something of which that can be exchanged. It could be in terms of money or other goods of which that can be exchanged. The two concepts are highly desired and cherished by most people in the society. In relation to other virtues and values, excellence can be associated with courage, perseverance, fortitude, temperance and other related virtues and values highly desired and appreciated by the entire society. It is highly desired in every human activities be it in politics, education, morality, behaviour and so on. In this case, it cuts across one’s social activities. It has been considered as a parameter for judging performance of a leader as well as the led. In academic, it is the basis of judgment. Students are graded based on their academic performance as pass, fair, good, very good and excellent. Here, excellence is seen as the epic of outstanding performance. Again, at graduation from the tertiary institutions, students are awarded certificates based on their cumulative performance such as third class, second class lower, second upper division and first class (Summa Cum Laude in Latin). And this symbolizes the height of academic performance.
Oftentimes, some people, especially students think that achieving excellence in academic is impossible. That it is meant for exceptional individuals – geniuses. Others consider it as a predestined or determined talent even when one has made a corresponding effort. Believing this, some individuals or persons forget to understand that some people are born genius; some people are bestowed genius, while some others achieved genius. Some people are not born with silver spoons in the mouth, but today their mouths are full of silver spoons due to their individual efforts to achieve excellence. Some people are opportune to be born where their predecessors have already achieved excellence but could not sustain it due to their laziness and nonchalant attitude.
Perhaps, to say that everyone desires excellence may be correct. But, to say that everyone pursues excellence may be completely wrong. My position is that if everyone pursues excellence, we would have been living in a perfect and progressive society. The fact remains that the pursuit for excellence conceivably leads to social change and transformation. It promotes attitudinal change, national development or nation building. It promotes patriotic spirit, national consciousness, communal living and mutual co-existence.
The pursuit for excellence often goes with an open-mindedness and kindheartedness; and such replaces everywhere falsehood with truth, madness with nobility, hypocrisy with sincerity, cowardice with courage, laziness with hard work, disorder with order, pessimism with optimism, mediocrity with meritocracy. Excellence, if pursued by all, will be a driving and unifying value for social change.
May I advise that everyone should pursue excellence. Actually, excellence is not gotten or achieved on a platter of gold. It needs personal commitment, sincerity of purpose, straightforwardness, honesty, kindheartedness, and courage to do good when others are doing otherwise. Achieving excellence so to speak is a personal decision, which can lead to common good of all. For a better and progressive society, excellence is a desired option.
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