Merit is a quality that we seek to achieve and have
acknowledged. But what is it? To be meritorious is to be deserving
of praise. It has been defined as the opinion one man entertains of
another. Demerit on the other hand, most of us, seek to avoid. It
being a path to infamy. The famous, in a classic and worthy
context, are those with merit, or, more accurately, they deserve
their fame. That is, that which made them famous has merit and is
deserving of praise.
Hard work and skill focused on a specific goal, with the end
result achieved, can be merit but it is not that simple. Effort
alone does not achieve merit. Hard work, being successful at
one's tasks, or being self made on their own is not merit. If
merit were simply about getting to a goal, or working hard to
achieve it, merit could apply to many things not deserving of
We do not describe a hard-working bank robber who diligently
planned his scheme, executed it flawlessly, escaped to live out his
life from his spoils a man of merit. He did it himself, worked
hard, achieved his goal and lived happily ever after. Still he is
There must be goodness for there to be merit. Merit is not
simple hard work and achievement, but includes how the work is
carried out and what is achieved. These are crucial characteristics
Palman qui meruit ferat (let him bear the palm that deserves it)
is not simply, for instance, the winner of the battle bears the
palm. Without merit he cannot bear the palm. Deserving of praise is
essential to merit. To bear the palm one must have striven
valiantly with great effort with honour for a greater good, and
therefore, deserve praise. Horatio Nelson in defeating Napoleon was
viewed to have merit. These Latin words were inscribed on his
funeral carriage and shield. It is Upper Canada College's
motto. We would not provide this honour or apply the motto to a
bully successfully bloodying another victim's nose to extract
his lunch money. Such a person does not deserve the palm, although,
arguably he may have won the fight. Importantly, merit may belong
to those unsuccessful in the fight.
Merit is not demonstrated through calculated and simply measured
steps no matter how much effort is put forth and to whatever end.
It is core to one's character -- you exude it by living your
life each day deserving of praise.
Originally published inthe huffingtonpost.com on 01/10/2013.
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