Traveling with Herbert W. Armstrong up to 300 days a year, I have been able to enjoy a continual education in the kind of dedication, effort and hard work that is required to accomplish anything worthwhile in life. Mr. Armstrong is in his 89th year, yet he continues to push himself, day after day, to accomplish an extraordinary amount of work furthering the Great Commission that God has given him. I know personally that he maintains a work schedule that would run most men ragged.
Mr. Armstrong's extraordinary drive is a manifestation of a law of success that he identified in the booklet The Seven Laws of Success. Drive is the fourth law of success, and Mr. Armstrong, as well as other successful executives with responsibility over large dynamic organizations, employs it. Drive means a constant prod on oneself, never lagging or letting down: it is the pursuit of excellence.
And yet the pursuit of excellence is rare enough in our society that it now is commonplace to remark about a general decline in quality. With the exception of high technology items, it seems that standards are coming down. Achievement test scores by high school seniors have declined dramatically in the last decade. College administrators speak frequently of "grade inflation." American automakers have lost sales to imports because of a reputation for lower quality.
Of course, not all standards have declined, and examples of great effort and achievement can be found scattered throughout the world. It is to encourage the pursuit of excellence, among other reasons, that Mr. Armstrong organized the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation. The foundation helps bring the best in the performing arts io audiences throughout the world. The foundation also publishes Quest 81 magazine, whose mission it is to call society's attention to individuals who demonstrate some measure of excellence in various spheres of life.
A society's attitude toward quality reflects its general outlook. As John Gardner in his book Excellence has written, "The tone and fiber of our society depend upon a pervasive and almost universal striving for good performance." If we tolerate "slovenly indifference," the general tone — the quality — of life must decline. Whether it be in the mundane matter of goods and services or the arts, the relaxation of standards robs life of much of its sense of achievement and dignity.
Perhaps our society is ambivalent about high quality and standards because, as Mr. Gardner points out, such standards don't easily coexist with "democratic" values. Excellence is based on merit and individual effort; while everyone can strive for excellence in at least some areas of life, the fact remains that many people don't.
Perhaps this is because excellence is not natural in the sense that it comes easily. Excellence is the product of "artificial" human effort geared toward some definite goal. Its pursuit means purposeful, dynamic activity. As such, the pursuit of excellence is a uniquely human activity — animated by the spirit in man. It consists, at least in part, in overcoming our natural initial pulls toward inactivity and laziness.
Another reason for society's uneasiness with quality may go deeper. We cannot really demand performance according to high standards if we believe that all standards are relative. As our society has forgotten God, it has forgotten also that there is Someone who sets standards, which are fixed and immutable. "For I am the Lord, I change not" (Malachi 3:6). To ask that one meet high standards means one must have a clear-cut idea of what those standards are.
What most commentators on excellence and quality omit is, to borrow Mr. Armstrong's phrase, the missing dimension on the subject. The pursuit of excellence reflects man's ultimate destiny to achieve the same level of existence as God himself. As humans strive for excellence in particular things, so is God the embodiment of excellence in all things. "O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens" (Psalm 8:1).
The pursuit of excellence, then, is a striving, in one part of reality, to achieve a part of God's character, who is himself "decked" with majesty and excellency, glory and beauty (see Job 40:10).
It seems that God built into man a need to strive after high standards, because the ultimate purpose of man is to strive after the highest standard of all — God's character. "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). This glorious pursuit is revealed in more detail by Mr. Armstrong in his Everest House book The Incredible Human Potential.