Skip to main content

In Pursuit of Excellence

Mohan is a family physician and a Postgraduate Associate Dean working in the UK. He has a keen interest in self-regulated learning.

in-pursuit-of-excellence

There has been only one pursuit in my life that keeps me excited, energised and enthused. It is to be excellent.

Long before I contemplated the meaning of the word excellent, I just wanted to be.

At what? People ask me. I find this question perplexing. As if we should restrict our aspirations of being excellent to a single thing, to a solitary pursuit. This feels too limiting. To be excellent is a vocation, a lifestyle. It is what makes me happy.

It is also what makes me exhausted. But in a pleasant way. Like the exhaustion of a good work out at the Gym where we push ourselves that little bit more, like the exhaustion of a mother who has just delivered a baby, the exhaustion of an artist who lowers his brush after that final flourish of paint on the finished masterpiece, or like the exhaustion of a – ahem – splendid post coital bliss.

I sit here wondering what to write about for my 100th hub. Do I compose a poem? Write a story? Compile an article? Pen a parody? Wax lyrical about an artist I admire? Then it hits me.

I will write about excellence. How the pursuit of excellence is a rewarding one. Perhaps it is the only pursuit that elevates us from mediocrity. That lifts us from the heart-sink of the merely’ good –enough’.

in-pursuit-of-excellence
in-pursuit-of-excellence

I do the very best I know how - the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.

Abraham Lincoln

in-pursuit-of-excellence
Arete - Goddess of Excellence

Arete - Goddess of Excellence

Areté

The ancient Greeks applied the term Areté to mean excellence or virtue. This term was not gender specific or even specific to humans or living organisms. Areté is excellence of any kind. For humans it is the act of living one’s life to its full potential. It is being the best you can be. The meaning of the word can change depending on what it was used to describe. It could be excellence of a building, of a boat, of a bull or a brave warrior. It could be excellence of an orator, a soldier, a beautiful maiden or a musician.

For the purpose of this piece I want to discourse the Areté of a human. What makes one excellent? Can it be taught? Can it be learnt? What are the traits that make us pursue excellence? Is this pursuit a rewarding one?

Back to our Homeric virtue, Areté is the Goddess of Excellence. What is interesting is her family tree. She is said to be born from Praxidike, the Goddess of Justice. Her sister, another of Praxidike’s offspring, is Harmonia a goddess of Harmony, concord, unity of mind or the union of hearts.

Excellence as a virtue is closely related to Justice and a harmony of mind and heart.

Coincidence? I think not. The Greeks knew what they were talking about.

This fits with my philosophy. To do justice to anything or anyone, one needs the virtue of excellence. And it is in this pursuit that I encounter harmony, unity and concordance.

Scroll to Continue
in-pursuit-of-excellence
in-pursuit-of-excellence
in-pursuit-of-excellence

It is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us.

Isaac Disraeli

in-pursuit-of-excellence
in-pursuit-of-excellence

Can we Teach and Learn to be Excellent?

Is it the pursuit of higher and higher knowledge that leads to excellence? Does ‘knowing’ alone convey excellence? We see people – some very brainy people- on Quiz shows who seem to know so many facts. Does this make them holistically excellent? Does the possession of superior memory, an archive of facts and factoids, make us excellent? It certainly makes us excellent at Quiz shows!

But can the act of memory and recall truly mean ‘Understanding’? Surely understanding or ‘comprehension’ is a better step up.

Or is excellence about how the knowledge is used in practice - the act of applying, engaging, exercising and realising this knowledge.

The root of Arete's mother Praxidike is also Praxis. This is the concept of putting theory into practice! And she is the mother of excellence.

So is practice the mother of excellence?

We crave more- just knowing and applying – can be done by machines- well trained computers- we need more in our pursuit of excellence.

in-pursuit-of-excellence

Good enough never is.

Debbi Fields

Benjamin Bloom

Benjamin Bloom

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives

Benjamin Samuel Bloom (February 21, 1913 – September 13, 1999) was an American Educational psychologist who has researched and published extensively on the theory of achieving mastery and excellence. Bloom studied at Pennsylvania State University where he got his bachelor’s and master’s degree. He then joined the University of Chicago and worked extensively on the learning process of students and was a University examiner. He headed a research team that focused on categorisation of educational objectives that helped the teaching and learning towards excellence.

Bloom was instrumental in creating tasks and objectives under the three domains of thinking, feeling and doing (Cognitive, Affective and Psychomotor).

Blooms taxonomy of Educational Objectives provides instructional tasks and instructional assessment that can push the learner towards exceptional ability.

Bloom's Cognitive Domain

Bloom's Cognitive Domain

Bloom and his team theorised that knowing and ‘recall’ is perhaps the lowest end of the ladder to excellence. ‘comprehension’ comes next this implies an understanding of the knowledge gained. The knowledge is to be applied and ‘application’ is the next step up. This is followed by ‘analysis’. The act of analysing the knowledge that was understood, a mental dissection, reflection will take the learner up the spiral of learning further. Bloom strives higher, he wants ‘synthesis’ and ‘evaluation’ ( these can be interchangeable depending on the source.

This is the pinnacle, the act of synthesising new knowledge. The Alchemical magic of combining various bits of knowledge learnt and creating new thought new ideas.

Would this help our pursuit of excellence?