I’m not one for motivational quotes. But in a period of isolation and the slowing of time, I have discovered I am one for making connections. Taking smaller, more deliberate steps – whether on a walk or in my learning – to appreciate every link. I’m also thinking back rather than forward because we don’t know quite when “looking forward” to things will return. So in recent weeks a memory has emerged of a motivational quote on the walls of my secondary school. Aristotle apparently wrote “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”. I can’t remember where exactly the quote was written, or if it ever motivated me to work harder. I didn’t even realise it was there in my memory.
As I revise for my second year HSPS exams, Aristotle is one figure who seems to unite my otherwise varied papers in Politics and Social Anthropology. He crops up in my history of political thought paper, but also in the theory and methods of anthropology. His idea of virtue, I learn, is something we gain through habit or education and it must be continuous to be considered true virtue. The seeds of this idea form an argument in Saba Mahmood’s study of a group of Egyptian women, teaching each other the virtues necessary to become the model pious self: inculcating habits, linking every action to practising their faith.
I don’t claim to be an expert on Greek philosophical thought. But I am learning to see the value in making these connections, across time and space. Regardless of the meaning of his words, the voice of Aristotle has resonated with me and reinvigorated a love of learning and reading and writing. Maybe not excellence, but a virtue, nevertheless.