In a decorative sense, the word “Spartan” means austere, frugal, or simple. It is derived from the name of an ancient city in Greece whose people were single mindedly devoted to the pursuit of one thing, excellence. In ancient Greece excellence could pertain to any number of skills such as athletics, art, or philosophy, however in Sparta the lens of scrutiny was most heavily focused on military ability.
In a state where the only worthy goal was an improvement of ones own perfection, creature comforts were largely ignored. Most people thought that they were a waste of valuable time and focus. They were a people that believed in simplicity, and modesty, and the power it had to strengthen the determination of their citizens.
The pursuit of excellence is not something that is considered very often these days. We are all looking for money and fame and the things that they bring, but nobody wants anything more. We are in such constant pursuit of frivolous possessions that we forget what the real goal should be. Or maybe we have forgotten what it can be; our own greatness.
That is why the Spartans decorated their homes sparsely. Their possessions were severe and functional. Their minds were focused, unclouded by any thoughts save the necessary. In this fiercely determined way, they achieved a level of true greatness, and went on to dominate the Greek world.
However, that dominance came to an end, and eventually, the Spartan society disappeared. In this truth of history we get the second half of the lesson we can learn from the Spartans.
The Spartans fell from their heights of power because of two major problems, a lack of people, and an inability to change with the times.
Sparta was so focused on military perfection, that they neglected many of the other important things in life. Family, art, culture, recreation, all of these pursuits were largely ignored in their society. Music and the arts were taught, but secondary to war and politics. Athletics were appreciated, but largely for the military benefits.
Such a society isolated itself in history. Unable to understand changing times, refusing to let others be a part of who they were and what they were to become, they slowly became extinct. By the time Aristotle was writing, there were less than 1000 Spartans left.
Excellence and the pursuit of our own perfection is one of the most important things in life. It is our responsibility to get better every single day. However we have other responsibilities which are also important, such as enriching our mind, connecting with the people around us, and learning new things. In this way we not only become greater, but we also become better people.
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