Why be excellent? Why encourage others?
About five months ago I wrote a post about arete.
This morning I reread that post and several related others.
Why read them?
Why write this?
My post on arete began with the idea of fitness.
Fitness means “being suitable for a specific task or purpose
Fitness is bounded by:
Adequacy: Doing the minimum needed to accomplish the task
Excellence: Doing the best a person could do
Between those extremes are:
Sufficiency: doing enough to succeed with a margin for error.
Mediocrity: doing about as well as most other people.
Most people are content with mediocrity.
There’s were good evolutionary reason for doing that.
And there are excellent reasons now to go beyond mediocrity.
Three kinds of “best.”
Our minds evolved to support our long-ago ancestors’ reproductive strategies.
Striving for excellence is a good strategy only for those few individuals who are endowed with exceptional abilities. But it’s not for everyone.
Conformity—behaving like the people around you—was a better strategy for most people in the ancestral environment, most of the time. Conformity shows others you are a reliable group member. Helping you survive helps the group and thus helps them.
The average person is average. Peronal excellence is possible—but to be a standout within the group is beyond their capability. It gains no advantage and thus wastes valuable energy.
Our minds are tuned to do what was “best” in the ancestral environment. For only very few “best” meant “the best anyone can do.” For most, “best” means “act like everyone else to signal group membership.”
Excellence and survival
Success is survival.
Individuals die, but information can live forever. Genes can survive an individual’s death. So can ideas.
In other species and in the ancestral human environment, success was principally measured by the progeny who carried one’s genes forward.
But humans changed the rules of survival. Ideas (memes) became comparably important to genes, then perhaps more important.
Success became the survival of both genes and of idea and—in the short term—the people who possessed them.
Is excellence helpful
Some genes and ideas help other genes and ideas survive.
Is excellence a helpful?
In the ancestral human environment, excellence was helpful only for the fortunate few.
But in today’s environment, it’s helpful for many people, much of the time. The difference between excellence and mediocrity is not stark, or those who did not show excellence would have died out. But striving for personal excellence makes an observable difference.
A person who demonstrates excellence is likely to attract better allies and collaborators than one who is merely adequate.
A person who demonstrates excellence is likely to attract a mate who also demonstrates and values excellence.
Excellence breeds excellence.
People who teach excellence to their children will usually help their children’s ideas and genes do better than those who teach them mediocrity.
And those are the choices, by the way.
You either teach excellence to the people around you or you teach mediocrity, because what you do you teach.
As I said earlier:
If I am not working toward personal excellence, I’m casting a vote for mediocrity and teaching everyone around me to vote with me.
I vote arete.
This is not the best blog post ever written.
I am not the best writer.
But I strive toward excellence.
Writing this reminds me to do my best.
And encourage you to do likewise.