Quality Is Always a Result of Intelligent Effort 

“Quality is never the result of an accident; it always the result of intelligent effort”

– John Ruskin

I have an app called DailyQuote which gives you a motivational quote every day. Although I’ve grown disillusioned with the value of such quotes, I do believe they are a good writing prompt. This above quote by John Ruskin is today’s quote.
I like John Ruskin, especially his work “On art and life”. He delves into the hidden meaning of things such as gothic architecture and rust. It made a real sensual impact on me. I can still feel what gothic church spires are all about and the inner life that they sprung from.
Most quotes weren’t originally meant to be quotes. Rather, they came as just one part of a literary work or a speech. They were simply one idea or sentiment among many and often thus were intended to rest on the preceding development. I often find that these quotes are woefully divorced from their original context and meaning. They are presented as a general truth or advice that stands alone, and thus they become like a second meaning unintended by the author. I doubt many authors would mind being quoted, though.
Take Winston Churchill’s famous words: “if you’re going through hell, keep going”. This is often found completely divorced from the context they were said and is taken instead for a general truth or wisdom. An epigram. What he was trying to do was inspire his people to beat the Nazis. He wasn’t trying to give advice to people who are going through a tough time generally.
To truly understand the quote by John Ruskin we have to know where it came from and I feel stupid for having come this far without being able to tell you.
“Quality is never the result of an accident”. Let’s unpack this. Firstly, what is quality? Is it really true that quality is never the result of an accident? The dictionary says that quality is the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind, its degree of excellence. So the quote means that something that’s better than others of its kind never came by accident? The only exceptions I can seem to think of are genetics and the domain of love and relationships.
Arguably there is an intelligent effort involved in genetics by the parents. On some level we’re all trying to apply intelligent effort to make ourselves more appropriate to a partner but sometimes love seems to preempt or even spurn intelligent effort to obtain it, preferring to emerge by accident. Does quality apply to love, though? Is some love better than other similar loves? Comparing like this doesn’t seem to sit right; I believe that intensity is a better means of considering love than quality since it is a subjective feeling. However, I believe the concept of quality would aptly apply to long term relationships. For example, some marriages are better than others. And marriages do indeed seem to require intelligent effort to improve so Ruskin’s quote holds water thus far.
Is quality always the result of intelligent effort though? Well, intuition is a form of unconscious intelligence, so if you’re thinking about the artist that seems to do so very naturally and effortlessly let me stop you right there. Learning any art form most certainly requires effort in some degree.
It seems to me that quality isn’t about inventing something, but rather making an existing thing better. If you set out to make something specific that has already been invented you know what you’re making. You must learn from people before you. I don’t believe the genius exists that can truly make something better than seasoned professionals at the drop of a hat, without the intelligent effort of learning the art form. We simply need to learn from those who have made progress before us and that takes time and energy. Maybe among children but what child can produce something better than a professional adult without intelligent effort?
On the other hand creating something entirely new may be done seemingly without any effort; simply by having the idea come to you.
I can conclude that Ruskin was indeed stating a universal truth. A basic fact about quality. This is useful because we can assume that if we want to improve the quality of something be it good, service or organisation: we know that intelligent effort is required. Given that other people also will be applying intelligent effort and quality is a relative term, we can also conclude that barring exceptional talent we must generally apply more intelligent effort than others if we wish to produce a higher quality.

There’s a book called “Talent is overrated” by Geoff Colvin. His thesis is that something called “deliberate practice” is what determines the winners in their respective fields from the also-rans. I’m struck by the similarity between Ruskin’s idea of intelligent effort and Colvin’s idea of deliberate practice. In essence, they both mean to work but work smart.

Mantra Meditation With Yogis

Walking through the city recently I stumbled upon this wonderful place called Crossways. It’s a peaceful oasis right in the heart of Melbourne. On the second level, there’s a restaurant that serves highly affordable vegetarian meals and sells Hare Krishna books (bare with me on this). On the third level, there’s nothing but tables, couches and a book shelf with Eastern classics. And on the fourth level, there’s a yoga studio called Urban Yoga which is operated by the same crowd I think.

As someone who’s becoming very interested in the spiritual side of life, this place seemed like the ideal place to relax and recoup after work, without necessarily going straight home. I like to go there, get something to eat, read and maybe chat to someone. People can be so warm and unpretentious at places like this, it really takes the edge off.

I decided to go to a talk at the yoga studio about “living in the moment”. What could be a more enriching thing to do than that? It cost $7, included a meal and was about 2 hours of intense spiritual vibes. I should mention that many of them are Hare Krishnas (Hare Krishnas are a modern Hindu movement). There are negative connotations to Hare Krishnas but I experienced it to be the quintessential Indian, spiritual, yogi experience. Much more laid back than zen-Buddhism but strikingly similar in may ways.

We sung mantras and someone passingly mentioned past lives (which made me bristle). That was about the extent of the dogmatism, though. The rest of it was spiritual not religious, based on experience, not scripture.

The mantras were intoxicating. It helped me to lose my sensible everyday self in a shared experience. That was simply beautiful. I understand what spiritualists mean when they talk about connection and love. I experienced it as “letting my guard down”. And I did indeed manage to let it down. I felt unguarded in the company of others, perhaps for the first time since my childhood. I didn’t know I was capable of feeling so cozy with other people.

There was then a discussion about living in the moment. It was quite enlightening. Nothing I haven’t read before though. “You’ve got to quiet the mind”, “find an object for it to focus on”. Et cetera. The theory is incredibly simple, yet ironically living in the moment can be difficult because it’s not of the intellect. I believe that learning directly from others is much better because there’s a whole new depth of meaning occurring, energetically, beyond words. Although reading from a book can be better than trying to will or intellectualise yourself into the right state.

After that there was a guided meditation, it was very brief – only about 5 minutes. I couldn’t hear the girl very well. I could feel a huge difference having the energy of others meditating in the room. Finally we did more chanting. Then had a meal and chatted.

I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. There were definitely positives such as a feeling of community and losing myself. However, there were negatives as well. I thought there was a strong dynamic of status consciousness. You could feel the will of people to be above you somehow. You could see it in their efforts to gain honour by helping to clean up the plates – any way they could to feel elevated. The drive for status lacked the usual external accouterments such as money or achievements. I did feel that someones’ body seemed to affect their worth but there were other other avenues as well. The will for status seemed to manifest almost in its pure form since all those attachments weren’t part of the culture of the place. That made the drive reveal itself directly, and it seemed evil. Social niceties and self-consciousness can ebb away when the mind is quieted and you may experience unalloyed intent to dominate. Or unalloyed pain at being slighted or rejected.

These base sentiments are part and parcel with the visceral highs of being truly connected with others in a community. Nonetheless, I find it deeply troubling to not be respected. And I don’t much feel like having to change my life or behaviour to earn the respect of a bunch of people that didn’t respect me before. I’ll be respected and it will be on my own terms. But I digress.

I think these spiritual or religious experiences provide a vital service to the human soul. In the modern world one simply forgets that they have a place in life and we grow ever more egoic and isolated. We mistake so much stuff for who we are. I think it’s an important thing to peel away the ego from time to time; and experience raw, energetic interaction. Things like being able to connect with others or to struggle with another with no external accouterments to degrade them: these are human skills that a man (or woman) ought to have. Yet ironically this is in fact why the mind grew so awesome at all.