Growing up, my marks in school tended to reflect my interest in any given subject. I either did really well or I barely scraped by. History was one subject where I barely scraped by, in large part because it seemed to be just about one war after another. The only saving grace were the times the teacher focused on individuals. Even then, I confess I still didn’t pay close attention. However, one thing I did take notice of was how many people were referred to as “the Great”. The ones who readily come to mind are Catherine the Great, Alexander the Great, Herod the Great, and Peter the Great.
I didn’t understand then – and I don’t understand now – exactly what those individuals did to deserve such a moniker. Oh I know they supposedly made significant contributions to society as a whole but did that really justify being bestowed such a significant title? And, in the case of Herod – the king of Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth – his cruelty and brutality were at distinct odds with anything having to do with goodness, much less greatness.
It makes me think of people I think were/are great. People like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, Florence Nightingale, Todd Beamer (think 9/11). It also makes me think that if people truly are great, you don’t have to give them a special title to point out that fact. And, that the things that make people great are the things from the inside out, not from the outside in.
I have no doubt that the truly great people throughout history would be the last to ever think that of themselves. The last to ever even consider accepting such a title. Granted, in the cases where such a title was formally bestowed, it was generally posthumously but my suspicion is they were probably people who would have been happy to receive such an honour. Perhaps even think they deserved it.
In my opinion, many of the greatest people in history have been those who were/are unsung heroes. People who consistently did the right thing when no one was watching. People who never blew their own horn (to use a quite possibly antiquated expression). People who made a difference in other people’s lives through selfless acts of service. People who sacrificed their lives so others could live.
I believe that list is a lengthy one, which means that greatness isn’t as rare an attribute as some might think (particularly those who think of themselves as great). The ones who attain it are the ones who didn’t aim for it because it isn’t about the title.
It seems to me that…