The only sure path to true greatness

by | April 16, 2012

“To every man there comes,” said Winston Churchill, “that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a special thing unique to him and fitted to his talent. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour.”

You were born for greatness. But how do you prepare for it?

Through years of tireless, thankless, recognition-less goodness.

Mother Teresa was an unknown nun in India who humbly served the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying for 29 years before her goodness was recognized with a Nobel Price in 1979.

George Washington transcribed his Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior as a teenager and strove to live them for years until he eventually was called to become the revolutionary general and later our nation’s first president.

Rosa Parks was little more than a good woman, a domestic worker virtually unknown to the world. Until one day, on an obscure Alabama bus in 1955, she sat down, tired, and felt a soft tap on her shoulder.

True greatness cannot be achieved in the absence of goodness. More precisely, sustained goodness is the only reliable foundation of and certain path to greatness.

As Aristotle said,

“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies, for the hardest victory is over self.

Be not deceived by public acclaim; rarely does it evidence true greatness.

Alexander the supposed Great was in fact a ruthless, brutal, murderous tyrant. We call men great who fight and achieve high public office, yet who privately surrender to the lowest temptations.

Greatness is not ambition, notoriety, or charisma, which afford shortcuts to worldly exaltation.

True greatness, like sincere goodness, offer no shortcuts and promise no glory. They do, however, guarantee inner peace with the knowledge that, at any given moment, we are in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing for the right reasons.

Millions of people are starving and suffering across the globe. The U.S. constitution has been attacked and eroded over the past century, and our nation is in deep trouble.

You may feel a shoulder tap about these or other monumental problems now. But if not, what can you do about them today?

You can fill your mind with wholesome, uplifting material and avoid degenerate and frivolous media. You can resist temptation when no one else will ever know. You can eat and live healthy.

“Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.” -George Bernard Shaw

You can read to and play with your children and make them feel important. You can listen to them intently when they want to share something they’re excited about.

You can embrace your spouse and say I love you frequently and sincerely. You can be faithful to your spouse both in word and deed.

You can change diapers, wash dishes, vacuum floors, and fold clothes day in and day out for years.

You can help your neighbors. You can serve at homeless shelters.

You can say I’m sorry to those you’ve wronged. You can forgive, even when it’s hard. You can strive to be honest with yourself. You can swallow your pride and control your anger.

You can spend more time reading books than watching TV.

You can be true to your word and do what you say you’re going to do. You can tell the truth when you have nothing to gain and everything to lose.

You can live worthy to feel the tap when it comes.

And always, as you work in the trenches of goodness, you must keep your eye on the prize of greatness, your compass aligned with mission.

As Henry David Thoreau said,

“I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

True greatness is achieved through seemingly small and simple means.

If you feel called to greatness, a stirring in your soul, remember this: Lofty ideals are achieved through day-to-day living on the ground.

To quote Thoreau again,

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Build your greatness on the foundation of goodness. And you will be prepared to seize your finest hour when you feel the divine tap on your qualified shoulder.

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