There are many people in history that we regard as great. I got to wondering how it was that some people achieved greatness, while others did not. Is it because of their power, their wealth, their influence, their conquests, and their violent tyranny? Or is it something else?
In my opinion, when we think of greatness today, we don’t think of those things. There are many people who aptly fit those descriptions, yet who are far from great. I think that greatness comes from wisdom, a person’s mastery over themselves, self-knowledge, an ability to change the conditions of the many for the better, their benevolence, their embrace of innovation and improvement, their courage in standing up to injustice, their ability to help people see and think differently and for the better and from their moral character. To be a great man or woman, one must have an admirable core to their being.
Some of the people we think of as great had very little money, were isolated loners and were peaceable people that had very little influence in their day. What they left behind was a legacy of thought, art, work, effort and being that we cannot help but be impressed at. Greatness comes from the heart, mind and soul. It isn’t about might.
Of course, greatness does not imply flawlessness. Many of the greatest people who ever lived were deeply imperfect, flawed, vulnerable individuals. But we forgive them their many deplorable lapses. We do this because of something essential in their makeup that we cannot help but acknowledge as desirable for all mankind. What was decisive, in every case of flawed greatness, was how they fought with that side of their character to allow their more noble aspects to shine forth.
Today, we’re indoctrinated with the idea that to achieve greatness, all you have to do is be richer than everybody else, usurp power more violently than your peers, seek vacuous fame more assiduously than others and influence the movers and shakers more effectively than other people, irrespective of how you achieve that. That has given rise to all sorts of cheats, liars, killers and charlatans seeking greatness through whatever low and despicable means at their disposal. Ironically, they never achieve greatness, despite their efforts. Greatness takes more.
If you aspire to greatness, or even if you do not, always bear in mind that it’s who you are that matters, not what you amass. Work towards self-knowledge and self-mastery and be a living example of all that is best about humanity. If you live and breathe inspiration to others, greatness may follow.
The greatest of the greats seldom cared if they would be regarded as great or not and that is the supreme irony of greatness.