On Greatness

It’s a long way from mediocrity to excellence. So common sense would seem to indicate that it’s just as long a road from excellence to greatness. But I believe that greatness is an entirely different road that bypasses both mediocrity and excellence. Greatness is no closer to excellence than it is to mediocrity. Bill Gates is excellent; Nelson Mandela is great. Bill was busy making his first billion and putting a PC on every desk while Nelson was languishing in prison. That’s the difference.

True greatness can only be born from personal tragedy. It’s not the only ingredient, but it is indispensable. Even tragedy won’t be enough without choosing the appropriate response – if you react by choosing caution and dedicating your life to avoiding further pain (as most people do), the world shrinks – you will find that you lack the imagination to find any risk worth taking, and lack the courage to take a risk even if you found it.

You could definitely call me a whiner. Sometimes, anyway. Life is just too difficult and there is just too much pain – especially the emotional kind. My heart gets broken, people betray me, my hopes get dashed time and time again, I climb towards the summit time and time again only to get knocked down once more. If life could just be a little bit easier…But in my heart I know that even if it got easier I still wouldn’t be satisfied. I won’t be satisfied until things are … PERFECT. I guess we all long for a perfect world. Believers wait for one, agnostics long for one, and atheists wish they could stop thinking about it. So let’s do a thought experiment here – what if the world was really perfect? What if there was no war, no poverty, everyone was beatiful and healthy, we all lived forever, nobody had acne, everybody loved each other and nobody picked their nose?

It’s the ultimate challenge for a Professional Whiner – to find something wrong with a perfect world. But I accept the challenge. There is one thing that would be missing in a perfect word, one kind of person that heaven cannot produce.

A hero.

Heros are born of adversity, and since a perfect world would have no adversity, a perfect world would have no heroes, only soft, fuzzy whiners who wouldn’t last 30 minutes in a Louisiana cotton field. Of course it could be argued that a perfect world would have no need of heroes. Well, this world has no real need for the Grand Canyon or the Himalaya mountains, but they sure are nice…

Without fear there can be no courage. Without the possibility of betrayal there can be no real devotion to another. And without being familiar with despair, we cannot know true joy. I find something surpassingly beautiful about a strong and noble character – a nail that refuses to be pounded down.

When I get depressed or upset about the way that life is treating me, I try to remember that someday I will have forever to take it easy and thrill as every dream I’ve ever dreamed comes true one by one. But who will I be by then? That is all being determined right now. This brief millisecond between birth and death is the only chance I’ll ever have, in all of eternity, to stand strong and prove myself against adversity. I can only hope that when it’s all said and done that I will have proven myself worthy.