Thursday, June 23, 2011

Quality - Revisited

A little more than a year ago, I wrote an essay for this blog that was more reflective than anything of any substance. I had questions - seems I always do. Although I didn’t ask anything of anyone with any specificity, in a little more than 800 words, I attempted to define quality. It is not a particularly easy concept to describe, though most people know it when they see it, hear it, taste it, touch it or even smell it. However, beyond experiencing it through our five senses, quality also has a transcendental nature to it. Real quality, like truth, beauty and goodness, is timeless and readily identified by people from vastly different cultures as “good.” A clay pot and a Greek vase are made from essentially the same materials and have the same purpose, yet one is beautiful beyond its utilitarian function while the other is not. That is quality – in this context artistic quality (or beauty) as opposed to functional quality (or goodness). 

We know what it is. We experience it everyday. A selfless act of compassion, a soft wind kissing one’s cheek, a glorious sunset… all universally known as possessing quality. But what is that elusive ingredient? What makes a Rembrandt better than Rockwell? Of course it’s quality, but what is quality? All this may seem to be much ado about nothing, but it leads to a deeper question, one I raised in that essay a year ago and one in which I am no closer to answering today. When it comes to the quality of one’s life – of my life – by standard do I measure it?

Obviously it is not a single “thing’” but rather a complex combination of factors that produce quality in one’s life. It is more a way of life than something in life. In many respects it is how one views life and defines his or her purpose. It can exist in one particular discrete moment in time and it can endure… and it seems not to be so much about one’s physical realities, material items and monetary wealth as it does with contribution. What have I done is far more important than what I have. And where I am going means more than where I have been. Quality is realized in the here and now, but it is not something that I can achieve and be done with it. For some time now, I have led a quality life, but that can change in a heartbeat if I do not continue to move forward… to try to fulfill that purpose, whatever it might be.

Which brings me back to a question I have pondered before and one that will likely always remain: What is my “purpose?” I do not know beyond some abstract generalities that seem to be common among those who experience quality in their lives. It has to do with making a contribution to humanity; being able to say that I did something positive today; and, at least, that I have done no harm. It is not necessary that I know exactly what my path is or where it will ultimately lead, only that I am moving in a positive direction… and for way too many years my life was stagnant. Today, with a sense of purpose comes that elusive quality that I could occasionally touch but never quite hold on to. For more than six years now, that element that defies definition has turned my life from an ordeal into an expedition, turned hardships into challenges and made every single day better than the last. That is quality.