Thursday, February 1, 2007

Of shibumi, areté and personal excellence

I have been working on developing a 'Personal Excellence Model'. Though I have used the term 'model', this is more of a personal exploration of 'excellence’(i.e. what excellence means to me). It is based on what has worked for me (and those ideas have resonated most strongly with my being) so far in my life. So this 'model' (or at least the thought process that lead to it) is quite ‘personal’ in nature though the model per se could be applicable to others. Of course the model is an evolving entity and it would change as I gain more data points(experiences, ideas etc.). While I don't want (at this point) to get into the details of the model like the structure, key elements ('meaning', 'living' and 'uniqueness' ), sub-elements etc., the objective of this post is to explore some of the key concepts/ideas that have influenced my definition of excellence.

One such idea is the Greek concept of areté. Though this word is often translated as 'virtue', it actually means something closer to 'being the best you can be', or 'reaching your highest human potential'. Areté is frequently associated with bravery, but more often, with effectiveness. The man or woman of areté is a person of the highest effectiveness; they use all their faculties to achieve real results. Areté involves all of the abilities and potentialities available to humans. Thus, being my best self and realizing my human potential is a key part of my definition of excellence.

Another such concept is 'shibumi' that I had once mentioned on this blog. While there are many interpretations on what shibumi means(see a related link here), I am using it here mainly in the sense of 'great refinement underlying commonplace appearances'. The other interpretations of shibumi that appeal to me include 'simple, subtle and unobtrusive beauty', 'articulate brevity', 'understated beauty', 'tranquility that is not passive', 'being without the angst of becoming' , 'authority without domination, 'harmony in action', 'invisible excellence', 'effortless effectiveness', 'beautiful imperfection' and 'elegant simplicity'. Concepts like 'flow' and 'being in the zone' have some commonalities with 'shibumi' though they are not the same. From this discussion, the similarities between shibumi and 'simplicity at the other side of complexity'(which is the theme for this blog) are quite obvious. No wonder I like the concept of shibumi very much (another contributing factor here could be my INTJ MBTI profile) !

Apart from areté and shibumi another key underlying theme for my definition of excellence is the emphasis on 'presence of value' rather than on 'absence of defects'. Thus 'goodness and authenticity' are preferred over 'correctness'. One interesting aspect that is common across all the three underlying themes mentioned above is that they all imply internal benchmarks. May be that is the way it should be since here we are talking about a 'personal excellence' model as opposed to a 'standard success' model !!!


Little Miss Muffet said...

That the benchmarks are internal gives immense freedom and responsibility in the same breath

Prasad Kurian said...

Thank you Kavita. I agree!