Arete: In Search of Excellence

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Sunday started at 6:30 AM looking in my Greek dictionary for a definition of “arƒªte” (arete). It means excellence, prowess, valor; virtue.

I can’t explain my waking thoughts–why would this be the first thing on my mind today?

Maybe it is because yesterday my daughter Heidi turned 18 and I am proud of her perseverant ways in pursuit of her dreams. I dropped her off at the airport a couple of hours later as she flew to audition for a college music scholarship.

Maybe arĻte is on my mind because I am heading to the cabin to spend a week trying to polish what m deitor hopes is a superb draft of my next book.

I know the word arĻte not from the koine (common) greek I studied in seminary, but from classical greek and a graduate communications course on Greek rhetoric I took from Michael Shadow at UW.

Shadow was lecturing on the Greek ideal of “wholeness” and completeness in the pursuit of excellence. The Greek’s dualistic view of body and spirit resulted in their yearning for unity and the Olympics celebrated “arƒªte” by rewarding the scholar-athlete, rare humans who reached the pinnacle of intellectual, spiritual and physical accomplishment.

At the airport Heidi wanted to buy a magazine and I looked at the offerings.

There was a Sport’s Illustrated cover with a bevy of swim-suited women. “Rolling Stone” featured Shaun White, “The Flying Tomato,” the lanky, fun-loving snowboarder. The shirtless (winter Olympics?) photo revealed his skinny ribs and obligatory underwear peeking out fomr low slung pants–fit, but not particularly muscular. This year’s Olympics with the US inter-squad squabbling, Bode Miller’s undisciplined wantonness and subsequent bust on the slopes–the whole thing is the antithesis of arete; it was a showcase of our societal decline.

Greek aspirations for arƒªte were rooted in their belief in the transcendent and desire to overcome mediocrity; Today’s lowest common denominator sloth is rooted in meeting or exceeding our faddish, self-defined compartmentalized human standards. Take your pick–the NFL, NBA, Olympics, Sports Illustrated all glamorize our current dilemma–bodies without equally developed minds or souls.

Oh for the days when we pursed the good, the true and beautiful holistically; Oh for the days of arĻte.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in March 5, 2006 by | No Comments »

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