Friday, November 27

"A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself; and a mean man, by one lower than himself..." Henry Beecher

"... The one produces aspiration; the other ambition, which is the way in which a vulgar man aspires." Henry Ward Beecher (1813 - 1887)

It might be cheating a, but I’m going to go back and mine the archives a bit. Today’s quote was the first one I chose back at the beginning.
Beecher was saying this in a different time, and the semantics of the language would have meant more then, although the nuances of the words ‘aspiration’ and ‘ambition’ can still carry some of the same deeper meaning today. ‘Ambition’ is the word that can make it controversial. Beecher is saying that ambition is more ‘vulgar’ than aspiration, but ambition is a word that our culture admires as a virtue, not a detriment. So is the use of ‘ambition’ just out of date, or is this quote actually applicable today?

I think it is.

If you’ve ever read authors like Covey, you’ll be familiar with the argument that our society has moved away from an emphasis on the internal character of people towards concepts that focus on the ability to persuade and on material gain as measure of a person’s worth. Beecher’s quote comes from a time when that real transition was just starting and his point, one I believe is just as appropriate today (if not as commonly accepted), is that ambition to achieve external results is a poor replacement for achieving internal growth; that material success is less valuable than the ability of humanity to aspire to true nobility of character; to be something more tomorrow than we are today.

The concept of focusing on aspiration more than ambition makes sense to me and applies to where I’m going. It might not apply as directly to other people, and that’s okay, but taking a moment to think about the value of developing character as a focus is, I believe, something we could all benefit from doing a bit more.