Greatness Rivaled by Goodness

Posted by: on December 18, 2011

In speaking of Abraham Lincoln, General W. T. Sherman said, “Of all the men I ever met, he seemed to possess more of the elements of Greatness, combined with Goodness, than any other.”

Sherman was not a philosopher, but he did have an innate understanding of people. What he expressed in this quote, encapsulates what I have come to call, “The Crucible of Greatness“.

Greatness is generally taken as an attribute of personal talent, while Goodness is intimately woven of a person’s character, integrity, empathy and compassion. These two qualities intersect much more rarely than we would like to believe. The fact is, success is hard. Few goals worth attaining come without great sacrifice, and because of that, a black market has been built around the industry of achievement. It can be hard to walk a path of Goodness, and still achieve Greatness.

There are some pivotal shortcuts available to those who would seek them. Who can you leverage, to elevate your status? Who can you degrade to enhance your position? What favors can you give and get in return? What might you get away with while no one is looking? Each one of these questions holds the prospect of an advantage, but each one can also chip away at your character.

Truth be told, almost all of us see these options, and most of us find them tempting. While some claim them to be offensive, others find them as natural and irresistible as a cold drink of water on a hot day. Some of us see life as a trial of shrewd sophistication; a machiavellian challenge of the fittest. These people seek professional or political success in the most clever and expedient way possible. Success becomes a term of quantity.

“There is no greater test, than that which encourages us to achieve an equal status of both Greatness, and Goodness.” – Author’s Note

Others amongst us see life as a test of quality. We measure ourselves in terms of integrity, ethics, principles and consequence. We have a clearly defined set of honorable values, and we achieve our success through a commitment to personal growth. Admirable yes, but I must admit, we pursue this path at a disadvantage.

The shrewd, who possess “ethical versatility”, often excel faster and far easier than others. Their rapid ascent usually insulates them from accountability and ascribes them a diverse roster of dutiful sycophants. Their prowess is rewarding, at least in the short-term. The example they set is rarely missed, generally tolerated, and often followed. But what does it leave behind?

For one thing, it leaves us with daily headlines that are consumed by successful but shameless politicians, sports figures, professional standouts and public officials who are suddenly revealed to be ethically corrupt. It leaves our kids with a bunch of celebrity figures, who aren’t fit, and have no desire to be role models. It leaves the average Joe or Jane with a feeling of resentment at work or in society, and it leaves the young and ambitious amongst us with a very difficult moral dilemma.

But it leaves something else…It leaves you with all the motivation you need to be the right guy or gal. To do the admirable thing, even when no one is looking. To achieve via hard work and diligence, even if you are offered a shortcut. To develop true friendships, and noble loyalties, even if they don’t advance your status. To embrace failure as a success, so long as your efforts were honorable. To be a real-life role model for the kids that are watching, and to take pride in the fact that you are a solid brick in the foundation of this amazing country.

Pursue your Goodness, and Greatness shall be yours.

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