A Title that Only Others Can Bestow

What a Great Person!

We all want to be great, to feel special and to be treated in special ways. However, when we talk or think about greatness, we often confuse what we do with who we are. For example, a man may be a great politician, but not so great in the way he treats the people around him. A woman may be a great actress, but no so great when it comes to her indulgence in drugs and alcohol. A young man may be a great student at school, but not so great in the way he treats his brothers and sisters at home. The same is true with me and you – we may see ourselves as a great writer or a great homemaker, but that achievement alone does not determine whether we are a great person or not.

When we say, “John is a great guy!”…what do we mean by this?  Typically, such a comment is recognition of a good feeling we have about him or about someone around us. This person may have done something worthwhile in the community, gone out of their way to help someone in need or just been especially nice to those around him. Whatever the person said or did in these examples, a byproduct of their actions is this special feeling we now have about them. In other words, John didn’t decide he was a great guy…it was a decision we made about him.

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

If you and I achieve greatness as I’m defining it here, it will be because someone else bestows this qualification on us. No one achieves this designation on his or her own. Greatness is not available to be a part of the opinion we have of ourselves. It is only through the feelings of others that our greatness materializes. It’s a gift that can only be given to us by others.

It’s interesting to note how the public reacted to President Ronald Reagan’s death on June 7, 2004. More than 250,000 people stood in line at the Reagan Library, some for as many as eight hours, to pay their respects and to walk by his closed coffin for only a few seconds. More than 500,000 did the same at the Capital Rotunda in Washington, and several million visited funeral homes around the country to sign books of condolence. His funeral was attended by dignitaries from throughout the world, many of who were former political foes.

Why did people react to Reagan in this way?

Was it because he was a great president? Or, was it because he was a great person? I contend that it was the latter. Reagan was not the most popular president. The two presidents who followed him, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, each had higher approval ratings than Reagan, as did three earlier presidents – Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower. 

Nevertheless, Ronald Reagan has appeared in the top 10 in Gallup’s annual Most Admired Man poll more than 30 times, more often than any other person except evangelist Billy Graham.

Not only did Ronald Reagan treat everyone he encountered with great respect, Nancy Reagan commented on several occasions that he never talked about himself or what he had accomplished. He was known by his staff to be respectful of everyone, even his adversaries. 

Consistent with his natural concern for others, he responded to thousands of letters with personal notes, some rather lengthy, penned in his own hand. Reagan believed in people, and, as a result, they believed in him, too. The undertone of his entire life is reflected in the inscription on his burial tomb in California: 

I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there’s purpose and worth in each and every life.
Ronald Reagan

It’s Something that Others Decide

You can’t just decide to go out and become a great person in the minds of other people. Their opinion of you, and hopefully the respect they have for you, is, a gift they give based on how they feel about the way you conduct your life. It isn’t a condition that you can create as it comes voluntarily from the giver, most often without that person fully realizing how they came to that conclusion. It isn’t your position, your appearance or even your intelligence that creates this respect from other people. It has almost nothing to do with these things, and almost everything to do with the type of person you choose to be.

Zach Wilburn had been a custodian at the church for more than 47 years. He dropped out of high school in the ninth grade and still had some difficulty reading. In spite of his routine job, Zach was a very positive fellow.  He always seemed happy, always smiled and always had a good word for those around him. He could explain his basic beliefs in such a way that anyone could easily understand them. The church staff loved Zach, and church members always enjoyed their chance encounters with him.

He started work at the church when he was 20 years old after several years as a construction worker. He had enjoyed seeing the church grow and had been very grateful for his promotion to Senior Custodian several years ago. Zach frequently thought to himself, “I’m a very lucky man.”

Zach passed away earlier in the week, and today, at his funeral, the sanctuary at the church was filled with family, friends and church members. As the pastor rose from his seat to begin the service, a church member near the back of the church leaned over to his wife and said:

"You know, Zach was a really great guy.”

You Can Make Great Choices

Like Zach above, you can make great choices about the way you will live your life.

You can decide how you will treat other people and what or who will be the primary focus of your efforts.  You can decide if and how you will use your life to make someone else’s life better. You can make the choice whether you will use your personal resources to help someone accomplish something important that they probably could not achieve otherwise. You can decide to devote your life to a cause that will save or improve the lives of many others. You can choose to do something that makes your neighborhood, your city, your country and possibly the world a better place to live. 

The choices are yours to make. But, like Zach, it will be up to others to determine if you turn out to be a great person…or not. 

“The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.”
Bob Marley

Written By Michael Nelson

Copyright 2014 / Good Choices Good Life, Inc. / All Rights Reserved

“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” John Andrew Holmes