On the shoulders of Giants: Part 1

So, let’s talk about greatness.

I read about greatness frequently in my nonfiction books.

However, what concerns me is the lack of a concept of greatness in the fiction and media world.

As an experienced reader, I think that fiction shapes the culture more then nonfiction. I prefer the term “fantasy”, actually.

Somehow when I read or write fantasy my imagination races, and I feel like life means something.

I think the truth of the matter is that we all want more in life than we see, and fantasy represents those dreams, putting them in a tangible movie, show, or book; that’s why we come back to those things. Even video games might count for that.

When it comes to greatness, the funny thing is that the real world stories can inspire us just as much as the fantasy ones. But I find the more story-like the telling, the better I connect.

Per example, I just finished a book called The Dressmaker of Khair Khana (which I enjoyed a lot), and the story surprised me and challenged some of  my preconceptions going into it. It’s about a family surviving war and poverty under the Taliban’s control.

What makes the people in these stories great? What is Greatness?

Greatness is not glory. It is not wealth. It is not popularity.

When you hear someone described as great, my guess is your mind goes to nice, fun, cool, talented and other words like that. The fact is, only the last one even touches Greatness. But talent is just material Greatness works with.

The words we use, and how we use them, reflects on our cultural perception. Take the word awesome. It means to inspire awe, and we use it typically to mean something we enjoyed a lot and was really good, but rarely are we actually full of awe about it. We might use awesome and great together and not really know what either means.

You are probably wondering why I am making such a point of this. The fact is I recently took part in a Shakespeare intensive, and we talked a lot about the importance of wording. Turns out word patterns can tell you a lot about the tone of a scene, the nature of the person speaking, and what kind of role they fulfill in the story.

Our words don’t necessarily limit us in real life. But in “The Student Whisperer” Tiffany Earl notes that the more words she knows, the better she understands things.

The word greatness should get our attention. It should be closely related to heroism, impact, change, goodness, character, and a host of other such ideals.

Have you ever known the disappointment of finding out someone who you thought was a good guy, a hero, was actually not up to your standards of what makes someone truly heroic? Then you found out they did not achieve greatness in your mind. Or what about vice versa? Have you ever been blown away by someone’s amount of sacrifice, forgiveness, persistence, or love? Whatever virtue most impresses you, if they surpassed all you expected, then they impressed you with greatness.

When I was in Junior High, we were asked who our heroes were. I didn’t have too many. Later on in my life when I was reading a book by Elisabeth Elliot, I found her commenting on how few heroes teens have now and how little they want to be better than they are. It seems they don’t want to aspire to be like anyone they think of as better than themselves. At the time I didn’t get why she was down on this; shouldn’t we like who we are? But now I understand what she meant. It’s fine to like your personality, but when it comes to excellence, we always need to remember there are people ahead of us. It may simply be because they are older and have been pursuing their goal longer. Or maybe they possess character we have not developed yet. Recognizing that is important. Greatness cannot be achieved without humility.

As I’ve learned to appreciate high ideals, I’ve found personal heroes. Both real and fictional. And I think of them when I face tough situations. I’ve written about some of them on this blog. Isaac Newton said:

“If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

C. S. Lewis said the next best thing to being wise one’s self is to be surrounded by people who are.

So, to understand greatness, look to the Great. In my next post I’ll dive in more into what Greatness consists of, but I hope I’ve provided some interesting ideas here. Until next time–Natasha.

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