The Weiler Psi

Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics

How Do We Measure Greatness?

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Here was a failed officer of the United States army who had a drinking problem. He failed every business he tried and was living at the poverty level and in pretty much any way that was important, he was just barely getting by. However in the short span of five years he rose to become one of the most important people in American History. That man of course, was Ulysses S. Grant, who defeated the Southern rebellion in the American Civil War and went on to become president of the United States. His entire reputation was made in just that short span of time. What he did before that time and afterwards has not been nearly as significant.

General George Patton’s entire reputation comes from a span of a few months in WWII when he raced across France with his tanks. Albert Einstein is famous for only two theories: the special theory of relativity and the general theory of relativity. His later work never came close to having the same impact. What we remember of people is not how they lived their entire lives, but more often than not, one short burst of activity representing a fraction of their total life.

The examples I’ve given apply to people who have achieved extraordinary greatness. They’re in the history books. But the same principle applies at any level. We might not go on to be great people, but we can have a moment of greatness for a few people. Often times, it is just a small thing that can make all the difference. For example, several years ago, I had an apprentice for a day. He was a young guy who was just learning about construction. He was struggling with part of the job and starting to falter and lose his confidence. All I told him was this: If it was easy, then anybody could do it, so why would you only want to do the easy stuff? A light bulb went off in his head. Suddenly he realized that he could complain and be frustrated, or set himself a goal of excellence. Easy stuff was for losers. His attitude completely changed and he became an excellent worker that day and I’m sure he continued that habit. This message had touched something inside of him.

it took 30 seconds to say a few words that changed everything for him.

Of course I’ve said the same thing to other people, and more often than not it has just gone in one ear and out the other. They didn’t get it. The phrase made a difference that day, but it had to be given to the right person at the right time.

What we say and how we act is often far more important to other people than we realize. I was working alongside a painter the other day working on an apartment and I learned that he had seriously underbid the job. As we got into a discussion I mentioned to him that he seemed like he had a very good attitude and would be successful working on his own. I told him that I could tell he was a stand up kind of guy. It just dawned on me this morning that he felt quite energized by the conversation. I was working at the time and only had about half my attention on him. But thinking back on it I realize that he probably rarely heard this sort of thing and that it made quite a difference to him. Of course a compliment from an older professional meant a lot to him.

I don’t really think of myself as being that influential, but that doesn’t mean that other people don’t see me that way. You see, I’m also in Toastmasters and I’ve taken on an extra job this year. I’m an area governor, which means that I oversee five clubs. In the grand scheme of things this is not exactly important; there are something like 2,500 of us in the organization at any one time. But I am perceived as important by the people around me. What I say has more weight to it. In other words, my estimation of my importance to other people is not necessarily what their estimation of my importance is.

How does this matter? It means that we have the capacity to do great things for other people, if only we take a few moments. We may be making a far greater impression than we realize. I think I’m like most people in that I have always measured my greatness on a world wide scale. That is to say, I don’t think of myself as having any greatness whatsoever. Seriously, on that scale, I’m a nobody. But that isn’t the only type, is it? We have all had great influences in our lives and those people did not have to be world famous to help us. They only had to care enough to give us what we needed when we needed it. And we didn’t care what the rest of the world thought about them, we were grateful. That’s how other people see us when we reach out.

What matters is that we have the capacity to do a great thing, if only for a single person, if we do right by them. Our honesty and capacity for kindness and forthrightness can have a tremendous positive effect on someone’s life. That’s a kind of greatness I can live with.


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