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The Heart of Life: Great

Friday, November 12, 2010


I know an inestimable number of good men and women.  I know many men and woman who will do good things with their lives.  However, I have one friend in particular whom I believe is destined to be something a little more than just good.  In every conversation I have with him, I find myself thinking, "This man is going to do great things with his life."

What makes a person great?  Some people become great because of a special ability.  Michael Jordan became an NBA superstar because he had an above-average ability to play basketball.  Albert Einstein won a Nobel Prize because he was a highly intelligent individual.  Audrey Hepburn won a Grammy, an Emmy, an Academy, and a Tony Award because she excelled in acting.

Other people become great because of a great adversity they overcame.  Helen Keller became deaf and blind as the result of a childhood illness, and yet overcame these obstacles to become a world-famous author and speaker.  Oprah Winfrey grew up in poverty and was a victim of sexual abuse as a child, and yet she became a very successful talk show host.  Aimee Mullins was born without shinbones and wears prosthetic legs.  She is now a successful athlete and speaker.

Still others are great because they dedicated their lives to a particular cause.  Mother Theresa spent most of her life serving the sick and poor.  Mohandas Gandhi promoted freedom in India with his ideas of civil disobedience.  Throughout her life Jane Goodall has been actively promoting the protection of an animal she loves--chimpanzees.

When I consider these incredible vehicles that have led to greatness in some people, I can't help but wonder where my friend fits in.  He is a fairly average guy with fairly average abilities.  He hasn't overcome a life-changing obstacle.  He isn't planning on changing the world.  Can greatness exist without great ability, great adversity, or a great life-long mission?

I think William Kamkwamba gives us the answer to this question.

William Kamkwamba was great long before he made an appearance on TED.  He was great before he received recognition for his windmill, before he built a windmill, and before he began reading books on energy.  Building a windmill did not make him great; he built a windmill because he was great.  Perhaps greatness stems not from a specific ability, adversity, or mission.  Perhaps greatness is something that occurs within an individual long before it is manifested to the rest of the world.  Perhaps greatness lies dormant--silent--within an unsuspecting person until the opportunity to act upon this greatness arises.

All around us are people like my friend who are silently and mysteriously great.  Some learned to be great, and others appear to have been born that way.  Most of them will never get the opportunity to become world-famous.  However, greatness is not measured by how many people know about that greatness.  It is not even measured by how successful a great person is.  Greatness is measured by how hard a person tries.

Whether or not you think you are destined for greatness, I encourage you to still try.  It is likely that William Kamkwamba was not aware of his greatness when he first began reading science books in a library.  It is even less likely that at that point he realized the incredible potential this greatness gave to him.  Yet, he tried.  And he made it.



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