THE PATH TO EXCELLENCE AND A VIRTUOUS LIFE

To be excellent one has to cultivate the habit and the process of gaining excellence is as important as the next result of excellence. Most successful people tell that their best time was not when they succeeded, but it was when they were in the process of succeeding. That is the reason why wise people say that virtue is it’s a reward because when you are conducting a virtuous act, it is making you happy, there and then. The secret of success is that it is a bi-product of doing good. It cannot be approached directly. In fact, most miserable people keep on looking whether they are happy or not. Focusing on happiness directly is narcissistic and not healthy. When you are healthy, you are not aware of your body. We become aware of our bodies when something is wrong. Joy is as natural as breathing but as to get good health you have to give exercise to your body. Similarly to remain happy, joyful, confident and competent you have to exercise your abilities in pursuing a worthwhile goal. That is the meaning of virtue and virtuous life.

There is a lot of confusion about the meaning of virtue and virtuous life. Many people confuse them with traditional beliefs about what is right and what is wrong. But that is not the robust understanding of virtue. Different countries have different conventions, different customs and different traditions. So the same convention may not be considered right at different places. For example, a reasonable assertion of one’s needs and speaking your mind, even by children is considered a good convention in America or Europe, but in traditional societies like India and China, it will be considered impolite and disrespectful. So conventions/ customs may be virtuous or not. Much will depend on an understanding of reality and its requirements for their comfort. So one should not be falsely modest or unduly polite. This is important because in traditional societies excessive domination and controlling go in the name of education. In traditional societies, we are taught to pay respect to our teachers and we are expected to go along with what they say. I am all in favour of due respect but too much will never help in developing your unique personality. One should have both “shradha” (devotion), “respect” and “saahas” (courage) to be a complete person. In India, we emphasize too much on “shradha” and too little on “saahas”. The famous philosopher Plato said something about the process of education. He said, “a pupil should be treated as free even when he is a pupil, otherwise it will not be an education for freedom but slavery”. Students should be treated as free people by teachers even when they are students, otherwise, they will never learn to be free. Those who have not experienced the atmosphere of freedom right since childhood will never learn to be truly free, autonomous and self-dependent. They will always be dependent on others, first on parents as children, then on teachers as students, then employees on employers, and then as citizens on leaders. To bring out the best either out of children or citizens three things are needed; love, liberty and guidance. It is only as a last resort that discipline is exercised. So premature discipline produces slaves and not virtuous human beings. It is only the love of virtue and loving atmosphere that produces virtuous, loving, independent and joyous human beings. 

As a famous philosopher, Spinoza has given the formula of right living- “act well and rejoice.”

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