“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.” — Aristotle


The idea that excellence is a product of training isn’t
surprising. Athletes, musicians, and those who achieve preeminence in other
areas requiring superior personal performance are well-aware of the necessity
and value of continuous training. The point that may not be as obvious is that
training and habituation are prerequisites for areas of excellence beyond
developing physical skills and individual talents. They are necessary for
emotional excellence, moral excellence, interpersonal excellence, as well as
intellectual excellence. The point that may be even less obvious is that
Aristotle also said that training and habituation are prerequisite to virtue.
People have the capacity to be virtuous but become virtuous people only through
training and habitually acting rightly. One becomes virtuous by acting
virtuously.


How does one act virtuously? Cicero advised, “It is our special duty, that
if anyone needs our help, we should give him such help to the utmost of our
power.” Confucius said, “To be able to practice five things everywhere
under heaven constitutes perfect virtue… gravity, generosity of soul,
sincerity, earnestness, and kindness.” Although how one practices
“gravity” is less than obvious, the other four requirements need no
explanation. John Wesley was even clearer when he said, “Do all the good
you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places
you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever
you can.” Now that leaves little room for doubt or negotiation.


The message has not changed over the millennia. Dante said,
“He who sees a need and waits to be asked for help is as unkind as if he
had refused it.” Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see
in the world.” Is virtue the path to personal joy and fulfillment? Probably
not. George Bernard Shaw said, “Just do what must be done. This may not be
happiness, but it is greatness.” Why? As George Eliot put it, “Our
deeds determine us as much as we determine our deeds.” Remember
Aristotle’s message, “We are what we repeatedly do.” The choice is to
habitually act rightly or to act wrongly. At that level, it’s not much of a
choice. The key is remembering that acting virtuously is an essential part of
one’s ongoing excellence training.