On Goodness, Part 3

“Everyone one of us must be the very best, of ourselves.” – Caroline Casey

In my young life, I’ve  so far discovered this one, nagging truth about myself – I desire to be great.

I had not wanted to admit this before. To have done so would have conceded that my life’s posture was one centered around myself. And that would have been absolutely, unacceptable.

Still is. However, I’m a little older now, and thankfully, more honest. This honesty compels me to say that, greatness, is in fact, a deep desire of mine, whether I like it or not. It fuels my drive to succeed, even while doing the most mundane of tasks and responsibilities, in the hopes that a better foundation of skills and experience for myself is at least readied, for the future.

This, great, big future…

To console myself, I take heart knowing that my pursuits, grand as they are, don’t involve being rich, owning a lot of property, or attaining every material desire I wish.

For me, I have generally defined achieving “greatness” as having made a tangible and substantial positive difference in this world, and thus, making it better.

Other things come with this idea of greatness, of course. Realistically, to have left your mark on the world so as to have made it a “better place” by all accounts would subsequently lead to being lauded with praise, or at least an invitation to speak at a TED conference. Think about it, how many people actually dislike Mother Teresa or the current Dalai Lama (I can think of a few exceptions – the nun who got no credit for nursing all the patients “Mommy T” didn’t get to, and the government that’d much rather Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th D.L., to just kept quiet) Generally speaking though, it’s hard not to like people who want peace or to end suffering. And the folks willing to take on suffering themselves for the sake of peace are absolute heroes in our history books (some of them, anyway).

Anyway, I digress. It isn’t just about making change in the world, but deep down, it’s also partly about being recognized by many as the change-maker.

Human beings are simply too needy. We want to be affirmed, even for the most selfless things we manage to accomplish. As much as we may want the mark we leave as simply seeing history changed for the better, I’d be willing to bet we still want our kudos for being the very agent of change.

I don’t mean to make light of this, or to peg us all guilty, the whole idealist lot of us, for still wanting credit for tireless, selfless work.

But in my practice of honesty, I’ve realized how, we all genuinely, just want to matter, and be remembered. Whether we believe we’re playing some part in some large, divine story, or just making simple, every day choices to be a better person than who we were the day before, when we’ve said and done all there is to say and we finally expire (and hence, say and do no more) don’t we just want to be known as having been good, at something? Not everyone aspires to be great, but even just good. An expert at his craft. A breadwinner of her family. A faithful partner and lover.

Don’t we all want our tombstones to read something good about what we had left behind? To have it engraved in stone that we actually left a legacy worth leaving?

I’ve digressed even further.

Now I’m thinking about death, and all I really wanted to write about was how I was living. Ends to the same spectrum, I guess.

I have to bring this back to how this rant began in the first place….

I listened to Caroline Casey talk about, well, herself, really – for 20 minutes, and I wish that she took up the rest of my lunch hour.

(if interested, see http://www.ted.com/talks/caroline_casey_looking_past_limits.html)

She talks about being legally blind, lying about it most her life, realizing she couldn’t keep on pretending she wasn’t blind, and decided to ride an elephant across India in response. Said elephant then nudges her with his trunk to live a humanitarian life and do work sensitive to elephants and serving people with disabilities. And her life, elephants’ lives, and the world, has been profoundly different since.

(I’ve embellished the story a bit, but a part of me thinks if Ms. Casey ever reads this, she wouldn’t mind a bit)

At the end of her remarkable story, she says the quote above and I repeat here so there’s no need to scroll up:

“Everyone one of us must be the very best, of ourselves.”

So here’s what I really wanted to say..

A few weeks back I rambled on about wanting to be good. In fact, I wrote about it again soon afterward because I had more to say about why being good matters. And now I write about wanting to be great. And feeling a tad bit bad about it. Bad, because the aspiration just keeps getting bigger and and bigger, and seemingly further and further away, from myself.

And that’s the thing – to want to be absolutely great, at least in the way that I had framed it for myself – has become less about achieving my own personal potential to its fullest, and more about taking on what the world has deemed a “great life” lived, and doing that instead.

I’d much rather follow a blueprint to living a great and meaningful life as it had been so determined, rather than working steadfastly on creating my own. In my wild desire to carve out a unique story in a world filled with billions of wonderful ones, I’ve gotten stuck just wanting to etch a pattern that’s already been done. And I do this, because in my mind, it is what works, and it is great. And I want to be great, so…

….I will do, what works?

If I stay on this course, I’m afraid I’ve gone the path of no longer getting the point.

And the point being this – that greatness itself, was never, nor should ever, be the end. If anything, it is a means, because our individual greatness, our unique abilities to thrive and excel and do amazing things, ought to lead to something even bigger, better, and beyond what we see.

Others may look at our lives, and recognize the “greatness” in what we do, or in who we are, or in what we stand for, but that in itself, is not for us to strive towards solely, at least not in my book.

I say this, knowing full well, that it is in fact, largely what I strive for, and so the clenched fist of conviction is beating upon my heart with a great sense of desperation – lest I quickly forget all that I am saying.

Perhaps the lesson is so hard for me because frankly, it’s hard enough consider what I have to offer, as is, as being great.

I’ve long convinced myself to believe that greatness is a destination, rather than understanding it to be something internal – an innate and unique set of gifts and talents that need only to be realized and harnessed properly.

The most important thing I’ve gleaned from this slight shift in thinking is that the greatness, already exists. It might feel buried at times, but it’s there. It simply isn’t realized, or perhaps, understood, even by me. The makings of me at this very moment have yet to feel all that awesome, but somehow, and sooner than later, I’m going to have to start believing that what is inside, is what is good. And maybe in fact, great. Just not the kind of great I’ve learned to value.

Otherwise, this whole pursuit will remain but a chasing after what has already been done. And who wants to be remembered for that?


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