What Do You Stand For, Bil Keene?

Published: December 21, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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The Greeks called it arête. Traditionally translated as “virtue,” its central meaning is excellence. In the Iliad and the Odyssey, arête is applied to courage and strength, especially when exhibited in competition and this is one common dimension. But it’s more.

The third aspect of responsibility, the pursuit of excellence, carries an ethical component when others count on our effectiveness at a given task. Striving for excellence not only requires doing’s one’s best, but acting diligently, and persevering in overcoming obstacles, as well as demonstrating a commitment to improve our knowledge, skills, and judgment when it comes to carrying out our responsibilities.

“The quality of a person’s life,” the great football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”

Bil Keane writes about the warm, funny, personal moments in family life. And he succeeds through the poetry of a comic. Today, The Family Circus is the most widely syndicated daily comic panel in the world, appearing in 1,500 newspapers. In response to my “what do you stand for?” questionnaire, Keane talks about the challenge and value for each of us to persevere with an idea or goal and remain true to our best self in the process.

“The prime principle I live by is ‘Be Yourself.’

“This is particularly true in the creative field. You cannot ‘fake it’ and remain undetected. Throughout my 50 years in the cartoon profession I have met many, many successful people, and the one quality that is evident in everyone is Persistence.  Never give up on an idea or project in which you believe. Stick-to-itiveness is the key.

“In high school I was inspired by the top cartoonists of that time and taught myself to draw by methodically copying their published works (mostly New Yorker Magazine cartoonists) until I developed my own style. With persistence a fledgling in any field eventually emerges from the cocoon with the confidence necessary to ‘Be Yourself.’”


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