Where do you find greatness?
I see it on a daily basis. Greatness is knitting a scarf for your friend and having to do it with mechanical pencils because you couldn’t find your knitting needles. Greatness is making a tiny man out of borrowed twine in the back of math class. Greatness is daring to create a piece of art rather than socially accessible propaganda. And far too often, greatness means half-hearted thank-you’s, a strong reprimand, or the title of “participant” rather then “winner”.
People do not want unique. People want different; different in the sense that it’s louder, brighter, perhaps a little to the left, but otherwise exactly the same. It is good, it is familiar, and it is probably not terrible, but it is not great. It crosses no lines- and if it does, crosses them with such calculated extravagance that the attention is on the act of doing so rather then the merit of the act itself. Listen to the radio. Learn four certain chords on the guitar and you can play just about every song produced last year. What keeps me listening is the hope of hearing a single sincere phrase in the midst of all those empty lyrics.
That which is truly great is so because it is felt rather than thought up; scraped from the cracks between heartstrings, gleaned from the thin film separating dreams from the soul.
It’s not realistic to expect that which is truly beautiful to be recognized. To do so would require reaching outside yourself, forgetting what you find impressive and abandoning all thought in the endless depths of another’s being.
I’m going to give you a chance right now.
Remember the girl I told you about? Who made the scarf? She’s amazing. She loves chocolate chip waffles and can French drape like nobody’s business. She bought you a sky-pattern quilt because you talked about always getting cold at night and she knew you loved clouds. She wasted a day last summer catching a hundred different buses with you, trying to get to the city and find a clinic because you were scared you’d gotten pregnant.
I want you to dare acknowledge she’s the best friend you’ve ever had. I want you to realize that even though she’s weird, and loud, and not going to graduate high school, that she is worth just as much as any football star, beauty queen or millionaire. You won’t ask about her grades or skills or looks, because you know greatness transcends silly things like that.
But you don’t; not really, because it’s wonderfully warm and safe, all bundled up inside yourself. And as long as you stay there, you will never know the amount of beauty the world holds.
This isn’t going to be picked for NPR. It’s unpolished, it’s bossy, it’s long and a little awkward at times. But after reading this, I hope you might see things a little differently. You’ll think – really think – about the next gift someone gives you, and take time to appreciate the fact that they cared that much. You’ll wonder what the quiet guy in the office has been doing all these years, and imagine thousands of tiny twine sculptures. Maybe you’ll realize that a wilted flower captures with equal potency the agony of a tear-streaked human face. Most importantly, you’ll be willing to see greatness for what it is, not because it happens to agree with your preconceived notions.
This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.