“Greatness” and “Humility”

I started a blog post several weeks ago about humility but my writing stumbled to a halt when I googled its definition: a low or modest view of one’s importance and having a low opinion of oneself. “Low” didn’t feel right to me. Humility feels so much richer to me than just “less than.” So that blog post went no further. Probably because my Muse wanted me to wait to pair it with the concept of “greatness” . . .

I’m on the email list for brief articles from the DailyOM website.1 The other day it was about “The Greatness of Others.” And that got me thinking about greatness. I started by googling the definition and developed an amalgam of many definitions: The quality or state of being notable, distinguished, or great (as in size, skill, achievement, or power).

So who are some people who could be assessed to be “great,” as having made “notable” contributions? Names that immediately came to mind for me were the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, Jane Austen and Stephen King, Martin Luther King and John Lewis, Monet and Van Gogh, Maya Angelou and Amanda Gorman, Stephen Hawking and Marie Curie, Mark Twain and Robin Williams, Bach and Mozart, Jackie Robinson and Mohammed Ali, Elvis and the Beatles.

But then the phrase popped up in my mind: “everyday heroes.” And I thought about so many “ordinary” people doing great things, making notable contributions to the people (and critters) around them, including family, friends, and acquaintances:

  • A staunch animal advocate and equine-assisted psychotherapist (and all therapists!) providing support to clients struggling with life’s emotional twists and turns, roadblocks and brick walls.
  • An ultra-compassionate caregiver who provides elder and end-of-life care, and who once even laid down on the floor to have eye contact to be with and support our terminally-ill pup.
  • Creative artists in stained glass, watercolor, and clay who birth works of incredible beauty for all of us to enjoy.
  • A hospital volunteer who shepherds patients and their families through the upset of surgery experiences with kindness and attention to detail.
  • A woman who’s part of a choir that lifts their voices in song at the bedside of dying or seriously ill patients.
  • And of course, over this past year, healthcare, frontline, and essential workers.

Tending the sick and elderly, gracing the world with beautiful creations. These are all notable (“great”) contributions. These are ordinary people of greatness—exhibiting greatness in their everyday lives just by being who they are, and doing what they do.

But as C.S. Lewis once said, “There are no ordinary people.” We are all extraordinary in our own way. We are each unique in our set of talents and gifts, experiences, and concerns. And we each make our unique, “notable” contribution to the people around us, and to Humanity.

An example from years ago: I briefly worked at a company with a decidedly toxic environment. I must have made my distaste known about the sexist, racist jokes management told because once I heard a manager say, “Oh, Nancy’s here. I can’t tell that joke.” He was being mocking and sarcastic, but the joke didn’t get told. And decades before the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, maybe I planted some awareness seeds.

Likewise, I realize now that papercrafting get togethers I hosted for some women friends weren’t just an opportunity to share my love for crafting along with some wine, munchies, and laughs. They also fostered creativity, and a swirl of feminine energy that went out into the world.

So don’t take your contributions for granted as “just something I did.” Rather, look at your actions with fresh eyes. And I urge you: Don’t be modest! Remember that in all of history, there will never be contributions exactly like yours because in all of history there has never been, and will never be, another you.

So let’s explore our own individual greatness and contributions. . .

* Get out your journal or a notepad, or open up your laptop to write.

* Think about the Jimmy Stewart Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life where he gets to see what reality would have been like if he hadn’t been born. All of the lives that took a different, not-so-great turn because he hadn’t touched them for the better.

* Now, write about your contributions, how you have positively affected (or currently affect) other people’s lives or specific situations:

What is it? (Describe each contribution in detail.)
How did/does it help others?

Your contributions can be large or small, ongoing or a one-off. (Loosen up, open up, and brag to yourself about yourself. Remember: This writing is for you; no one else will read what you writeunless you choose to share.)

If you have trouble “bragging,” let it all percolate overnight or over the next couple days and then revisit this exercise, repeatedly if necessary.

Now, circling back to the DailyOM article about greatness, I thought about how all of this relates to Oneness . . .

I remembered a scene at the end of the Star Trek movie The Wrath of Kahn. Some deadly (radiation?) reaction in a containment area is about to blow up and kill everybody if it’s not manually turned off. Spock goes in to shut it off, exposing himself to certain death, sacrificing his life to save everybody else, saying, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” To which his friend Captain Kirk sadly responds, “Or the one.” A worthy concept: the one is not as important as the many.

But sometime after seeing that movie, while meditating, words came to me:

The one is as important as the many AND the many is as important as the one.

I’ve pondered for years how both could be true at the same time. Like in the Star Trek scene, aren’t there life situations where one or the other must be pre-eminent?

But if we are all One, then if something affects one of us, doesn’t it ultimately affect all of us? And vice versa? And when you do an act of kindness for someone, doesn’t it send out a wave of kindness energy out into the Reality and everyone in it?

This all led me to the thought that maybe the essence—the mystery, the awesomeness—of Oneness is summed up by the U.S. motto E Pluribus Unum, “Out of many, one.” Each of us is an individual “one” with our own uniqueness while, simultaneously, also being part of the Whole, the One. Oneness. Maybe there is greatness in our individuality, and humility (modesty) in being a small part of a much larger Whole.

So maybe that’s the key take-away here:

Acknowledging our own greatness and contributions—in a humble kind of way. 

Lastly, bearing in mind your contributions in the exercise above, now the big questions are:

From this day forward, what do you want your contribution(s) to be?
How will you express your greatness?

Every single day brings with it new opportunities for us to express our greatness. Almost 1,500 minutes of opportunity every day. And over 500,000 minutes every year. Let’s use some of those minutes to take care of ourselves (breathing in) and some minutes to express our greatness and be of service to others (breathing out).



1  DailyOM website

2 2021: “Breathing In” and “Breathing Out” blog post

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