Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Daily Meditation -- 04/24/2007

We distinguish the excellent person from the common
person by saying that the former is the one
who makes great demands on him or herself, and the latter the one who
makes no demands on him or herself.

-Jose Ortega y Gasset

I read this and immediately shook my head, taking it to be common sense. Of course it's common sense if I agree with it. So I started thinking a little more deeply. Can I find somewhere in my experience where I've disagreed with this? Can I find somewhere in my experience where someone else has disagreed with this?

Looking at the quote, I find it hard to imagine someone who makes no demands on him or herself. I guess living in an addicted haze, stumbling from one thing you need to do in order to survive to the next would be a little less demanding than facing the realities of each day, taking the hits as they come.

So maybe the excellent person is more willing to face life, whatever may come, than the common person. Maybe turning away from a sense of entitlement, opening ones eyes so they can do what needs to be done, rather than what they feel they get to do - that would be demanding.

Then again, maybe I'm just skewing the criteria, trying to fit my carcass into the uncommonly excellent slot.


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legion said...

When the quote says "We distinguish ... by saying", it becomes ambivalent about whether it agrees with the assertion being made. Perhaps this is what makes it a great quote.

But my gut says hell no, that's wrong.

Does a diamond try hard to be unique and special? Or is it just the way it was formed. I think a common blade of grass tries a lot harder and demands more of itself.

A great many excellent people have done nothing very remarkable, and placed few demands upon themselves. Some perhaps are born with their gift of greatness, or their circumstances were such that they needn't place any demands on themselves. Some easily coast into whatever spots in life that cause others to sit up and notice and throw accolades at them.

While many common men will place great demands upon themselves. Perhaps just not to lose the trait of being common. And demanding of yourself the courage and strength to "stumble from one thing you need to do in order to survive to the next" can be admirable, whether from a family man, an addict, butcher, baker, or candlestickmaker. But despite the demands you make of yourself, a label of common is easy for anyone to apply.

Chance plays a great role in how you might be viewed. Even if you choose to ignore the observers' categorization, saying "that's not what's meant by excellence", how can you ever determine this without knowing what's going on inside a person's head?

Withough magically becomming a person, how can you know the demands they make of themselves? And for each of us, how can we quantify the demands we make of ourselves, compared to the demands others make on themselves.

I don't think this is a bit of common sense. I think it's a bit of easily spun "wisdom" that tries to divide the population by judging one side to not be trying hard enough. And that's just too easy.

Liam J. said...

Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.

See, that's one of my failings, is that if I ruminate on something, I work off the premise that it's true. Excellence is a word that can be interpreted in many ways by many different people.

Good call, James. I like your take on this.

El Cliff said...

Wow, very interesting analysis, Mr. James. I would have to say that I agree with what you said.