Make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control, and to self-control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness and to godliness, mutual affection, and to mutual affection, love. 2 Peter 1:5-7
Athletes practice their sport daily. It is in their best interest to become faster, stronger, smarter. They must put in hours every day to become the best at what they do. Can you imagine if an athlete showed up for a game without any practice behind him? What if a team comes into their season without giving themselves one minute of practice? I can’t imagine that the individual or the team would be successful.
The same is true for musicians, performers and actors. Concerts have come a long way. Gone are the days of a man and his guitar. Shooting flames up from the front of the stage, dry ice and smashing guitars are all a thing of the past.
Rock, pop and country stars have long rehearsals learning dance moves, lyrics, and chords. They need to be physically fit and fearless of heights, fire, and the mixing of electricity and water. They are strapped to cables and fly through the air. They are delivered onto stage via an underground trampoline that propels them into the air. Rain falls from the rafters, fire rises from the floor. Dance numbers and costume changes are the basic foundations of a much more elaborate performance. Imagine if these performers showed up unrehearsed and ill prepared. Would the crowd demand a refund? Would social media blow up with disconcerted fans? Would concert attendance drop? Would sales decrease?
Should we adopt the same philosophy when it comes to being human? Do we practice skills in order to improve our humanity? Things like character, integrity, morality and honesty? Have these things slipped away like the rock performances of the past. Is biting the heads off of bats or bringing a boa constrictor on stage enough for today’s music fan? The athlete’s performance has increased over the years through innovations in biomechanics, kinesiology and nutritional advances. Today our athletes are conditioned and trained specifically for enhanced performances. Civility has also evolved over time through the advance studies of human nature. We understand personalities and how the brain works. We have superior intellect and deep spirituality.
If we can’t expect athletes or performers to be at their best without hours of practice, how then can we expect to improve our virtues without practice? The very definition of the word virtue demands practice; moral excellence, can excellence be achieved without practice?
Our human nature dictates that we are imperfect. Nobody has to teach a baby to be selfish. No one has ever taught a child to lie. These are traits that we are all born with. Our parents teach us to share, think of others and to tell the truth. Fortunately, unlike the athlete or the stage performer whose career is limited to youth, health and changing fads, being human has a lifetime to get right. A lifetime of practice, a lifetime to make mistakes for that one moment to get it right.
Can you imagine if newborns at the moment they take their first breath start to practice their skills in athleticism or the arts? What if they didn’t have to wait for those pesky little inconveniences like learning to speak or walk? As newborns, we immediately start to communicate, we come into this world knowing how to think and how to feel, the foundations of humanity. As we grow we learn selflessness, humility, patience, kindness and so on. At the very minute that first precious breath fills our lungs, we already have the capability to learn and the ability to love.
Once we start to practice we start to change, we learn and we grow. Like an athlete in the weight room, each day is met with a new goal. A practice schedule is followed and progress is not made until fundamentals have been conquered. Like the musician rehearsing, they must first learn the music, then the lyrics, dance moves and stunts, each must me committed to memory and become second nature before they can move on to the next.
Like an athlete is bound to the rules of the game, a performer is bound to the beat of the music, we also have guidelines and rules to help us achieve our own moral excellence. We must start with the fundamentals and move up as each is achieved. Unlike the athlete or the musician there is no one keeping score. We are never benched but are always allowed in the game. We must learn from our mistakes and push ourselves further next time. We must feel pain, we must sweat and we must bleed in order to find our success. We will never quit and we will always play until the whistle blows. We serve only one and we follow His will and answer only to His voice.
Virtue is defined as moral excellence; excellence is defined as superiority; ask any athlete or musician who has reached these two levels of performance; it did not come without practice.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.