What Is Greatness?

We all know people who exhibit greatness. Maybe someone you know personally, through their work, or from history. But what makes them great?

There are many ways to achieve greatness as an individual. Someone might be a leader, or an innovative scientist. It might manifest as an influential artist, or an accomplished athlete. Or even a person who does just one thing, but does it extremely well.

Is there something these individuals have in common? Is there a trait that you recognize as being great in another person? Do you try to develop that trait, or something similar, in yourself?

What is greatness?

Related questions: What is important? How do you judge yourself? Which historical figure would you like to meet? What gives a person value? What makes a good leader?

1 thought on “What Is Greatness?”

  1. Greatness can be displayed through a combination of talent, skill, and a drive, through practice, to become even better. The gifted dancer or musician, for example, bring together their natural ability and long hours of rehearsal to become great at their craft. I would argue that The Edge from the band U2 is an excellent example of this type of greatness.

    Some display greatness through leadership into new territory. Former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for example, was a trailblazer, being amongst the first women to attend Harvard and Columbia Law Schools, then spending much of her career fighting for gender equality. The second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg — earned the title “The Notorious R.B.G.” for her passionate liberal dissents in the face of a conservative court.

    Or someone can display a moment of greatness through dire courage: a soldier dying to save others or a peaceful protester standing up to abusive authority. The soldier feels camaraderie; the peaceful protester feels righteous indignation. And then, in an instance that requires it, they feel an adrenaline rush to stand up for others.

    These three types of greatness can be brought together. Civil rights leaders are top-of-mind for me. The late Representative John Lewis, for example, risked his life in civil rights’ marches against racial segregation. He also became a great orator, a talent and skill he put to great use on Capitol Hill. And, how can you not be considered great when your popular title is “the conscience of Congress.”

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