14
Jan
10

two types of achievement

As I’ve said in this blog before, achievement is a valued part of human life. Achievements requires rules though. Climbing everest isn’t an achievement if it’s done with a helicopter, and hitting a record number of home runs isn’t an achievement if it involves using steroids.

But even these two examples suggest two types of achievement, one that involves a solitary human will taking on the arbitrariness of nature, and another involving the clash of at least two wills.

The first case is illustrated nicely by Phillipe Petite, when he tightrope walked between the two towers of the world trade center. When asked why he did it, he responded by asking “why does everything have to have a reason?” This is a little deceptive though, because there is a reason why a person undertakes a seemingly pointless confrontation with difficulty, which is for the excellence it brings out; for the power and the fortitude it taps.

I can’t match Kennedy’s words on this topic.

But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

But other times, our excellence requires an overcoming, not of nature, but of the will of another person. When someone wins a court case or blocks the shot of an opponent in basketball, the conflict is between two people.

We have many rules, some for games, some for trials, and some for elections, but my hypothesis is that there are some rules that are so general that they govern life itself. Shots in basketball have to be made within the time of the shot clock to count, to be a good shot. I think something similar can be said about the good life. In order for one’s life to be an achievement, it has to be lived within certain rules. The rules that make a good life possible, are, I think, moral rules, or, at the very least, the rules of liberalism.

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