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How to be great – leaving a legacy

March 4, 2012

Who wants to be great?

Many of as children have had dreams of greatness.  Whether they involved sports or politics or military or fire-fighting or acting or music, we associated them with fame and renown at a young age.  There is a reason that children aspire to such “lofty” goals, and it rarely has anything to do with a love for a particular vocation.  All of us aspire to be great.

It is human nature to appreciate greatness.  This appreciation is not confined to people, as it includes nature, construction, catastrophes, and almost anything you can imagine.  We notice and remember things that excel in some way, things that are somehow distinctly different from what we encounter in normal life.  We remember the biggest mountain (Everest), the biggest canyon (The Grand Canyon), the longest river (Nile), and lots of other “ests”.

From all of this we can draw the obvious and normally preferred way to “be great.”  However, this type of greatness is very difficult to attain, as there can only be one “best” in any given category.  This does not mean that we shouldn’t strive to improve our talents.  It is simply a recognition of fact.  However, there is another type of greatness, one to which each of us can aspire.

Who is truly great?

All of us can remember people who were influential in our lives.  That grade school teacher who helped to overcome some handicap; the friend who taught us to ride a bicycle; our music teacher who was also a great friend; the mentor who helped to develop our talents that we use to make a living today – each of these played a role in our lives.  These people are great – they exerted influence in a way that will long outlast their own lives.  This is the type of greatness which you and I CAN achieve.

I know an elderly gentleman whom I have probably not appreciated as I should.  I think of him as a good friend and excellent musician.  However, he is much more than that.  This gentleman had the talent at a young age to become a renowned trumpeter.  He is well-educated.  He has influential friends.  Yet, if you meet him on the street today you will not quickly learn these things.  What you will quickly learn is that he is concerned about you.

What makes a man great?

He has given more than 50 years of his life to helping people.  Instead of pursuing a career as a concert trumpeter, he left college and went immediately to work in missions in Africa.  In his efforts to help people he has had to flee for his life as governments were overturned.  He has not lived the life of ease which his talents could have earned for him.  He has spent his life in helping others, teaching music and theology and life skills to the under-privileged of Africa and Eastern Europe.

Now in his later years, what does he have to show for all his work?  Some people interested in todays normal valuation of greatness would say that he wasted his life.  However, a quick look at his influence and his “legacy” would refute the idea of waste.  He has influence with leaders of large movements on three continents.  He has friends who would go to great lengths for him spread all over the globe.  He has spread knowledge that will be remembered and propagated for decades to come.  He has directly influenced multitudes of young people to pursue excellence in whatever they do.  He will be remembered, fondly, by many, many people.

How can we be great?

What is the true measure of greatness?  Is it the ability to sway large groups of people with written or spoken words?  Is it the ability to run faster, jump higher or shoot straighter than others?  Is it the ability to craft a masterful campaign and achieve some lofty election or great military victory?

In my opinion, none of these are as great as the ability to forget yourself and help people.  If you would be great, if you would leave a lasting legacy, devote yourself to helping those around you.

History is littered with great people.  People like George Washington, Thomas Edison,  Gutenberg, Pasteur, Nightingale, and countless others have devoted their lives to bettering the existence of people around them.  While we may not ever achieve the fame that these have, we can have a lasting influence, just like they have.

You and I can be truly great.  Let us strive to achieve the greatness that is attainable to each of us.


From → This and That

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