Monday, February 01, 2010

Personal Greatness

In a church meeting I attended yesterday, the speaker asked the attendees to think of those few people they had known that they would consider to be truly great. It didn’t take me long to formulate a quick list. I was actually a bit surprised at the first couple of names that popped into my head.

The speaker then asked us to think about what factors made these people great. He then suggested a point that might be drawn from this exercise. I found that I had thought in quite a different direction. Not an opposing direction; just different.

As a side note, I find that I am less prone to single-threaded thinking than I used to be. It used to be that when I found myself drawing different conclusions than an instructor, I would immediately chide myself and work to correct the discrepancy. I have come to realize, however, that in some cases there is no single correct answer and that there can be value in exploring other thought trails.

I sat and mulled over what it was that made those on my list great. My first thought was that each of these people had taken a personal interest in me and had served me. That is, I had (at least at some point in time) a personal relationship with each of these individuals. Each had demonstrated individual concern for me. Moreover, each one engendered in me a sense of personal value.

But there was something more to it. I thought of others that didn’t make my list that had, nevertheless, helped me comprehend my personal value and with whom I had been close. I realized that each of the individuals on my list had helped me stretch to achieve and become more than I thought was possible for me. Sometimes this meant enduring uncomfortable situations. Each of these individuals had required me to try again when I failed and had been confident of my eventual success.

Still, there seemed to be yet another element that was missing, because I could think of a few for whom I could check both of these first two boxes but that were not on my list of greats. I finally concluded that each of my ‘greats’ had been devoted to a cause that was bigger than themselves. They weren’t sacrificing just to do their duty. They cared about the success of a greater cause.

There are probably other elements at play as well. But, in general I can say that the people on my list of those I have known that have demonstrated personal greatness:
  • Cared about and served me personally.
  • Saw more in me than I saw in myself and helped me become better than I thought I could be.
  • Were dedicated to a greater cause.
I also realized something else that I hadn’t thought about much before. Each of my great individuals is (was) a fallible human being with personal foibles and idiosyncrasies. I can perceive flaws in these people and still have a rich appreciation for them. Since greatness does not require perfection, there is no need to ignore shortcomings or to pretend that they don’t exist.

My life has been blessed by association with great individuals. I doubt that any on my list would consider themselves to be possessed of greatness. But that’s just another point in their favor.

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