Excellence we love to hate

There is something about excellence that evokes strong feelings of discomfort and/or disdain in people.

We love to hate winners. Nothing will cause people to question your methods and motives like sustained success.

This all started to come into focus for me Sunday night as I was enduring yet another Super Bowl featuring the much-maligned New England Patriots.

As we prepared for the big game over the last week, most people I know were rooting for the Patriots to lose the game more than for anyone else to win.

What have the Patriots done to deserve all of this contempt? Some would point to the scandals of “Spy-gate” and “Deflate-gate,” arguing that the Patriots have only won because they are perpetual cheaters. Others point to the dark underbelly of the business side of the NFL, arguing that it is all a conspiracy perpetuated by the league in order to keep their cash cow producing.

We search for any shred of evidence of duplicity to explain their years of excellence because no one can produce at that level for that extended a period of time.

If we extend our field of view beyond the NFL, we find more examples of our discomfort and distrust of excellence. If there is a team people love to hate more than the New England Patriots, it has to be the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Once again, there is no apparent evidence of questionable behavior over the years other than their absolute dominance of NCAA football over the last decade. Or perhaps we should consider LeBron James. Here is a man who has worked diligently to hone his craft on the court and has also made great efforts to improve his hometown, yet I cannot think of one player I would rather watch lose than LeBron.

The one thing all three of these examples have in common is that they have performed with excellence over extended periods of time, and they are hated for it.

While much less pronounced, I have observed the same attitudes toward excellence in many different areas of life. Nothing will cause us to question what people have done, how they have done it and who they truly are like patterns of excellence.

We go to great lengths to knock people off of the proverbial pedestal. I wonder if we don’t struggle to accept the excellence we see in others because it reveals our own mediocrity. And the unfortunate truth is it is easier to pull others down than it is to improve ourselves.

Excellence requires effort. As much as we might like to attribute excellence to natural talent or dumb luck, the manifestation of excellence, especially sustained excellence, is the product of diligent, dedicated hard work.

Anson Dorrance, head coach of the women’s soccer team at the University of North Carolina, once said, “Talent is common. What you invest to develop that talent is the critical final measure of greatness.”

While no one is perfect in any aspect of their lives, there are those who are worthy of respect and emulation. Rather than looking for ways to pull others down to our own level, perhaps we should devote ourselves to climbing up to theirs.

As followers of Christ, we are called to pattern our lives after Jesus. Christ truly was perfect. He alone has reached the pinnacle of perfection. And while we will never reach the standard of excellence he has set, it should not stop us from putting in the effort.

Rather, it should spur us on to pursue greater levels of excellence in all areas of our lives. In I Peter 1:15-16, it reads, “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all that you do.”

We shouldn’t despise excellence when we see it. We shouldn’t search for ways to tear others down. And while I would never encourage anyone to cheer for the New England Patriots, I must admit their level of excellence. We should acknowledge excellence when we see it and allow it to encourage and inspire us to pursue excellence in our own lives.

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