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.
An aspect of the value 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 wrote about the warm, funny, personal moments in family life. He succeeded through the poetry of a comic. Although Keane never formally studied art, he developed a style that became instantly recognizable around the world. The Family Circus is the most widely syndicated daily comic panel in the world, appearing in 1,500 newspapers.
In 1999, Keane sent me the following response for inclusion in my What Do You Stand For? book. Like his strip, his message is clear and concise. The more I re-read his reply the more I could relate to the challenge and value for each of us to persevere with an idea or goal while remaining true to our bestself 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.”
Lucky for us, Keane’s son Jeff has picked up the pen and continues the strip his father began in 1960.