Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble,Marie Curie, Benjamin Franklin, Isaac Newton, Charles Goodyear: what do these people have in common? Obviously, they are regarded as great people, influential people who have shaped our understanding and management of our world. There is something to be said for the human standing in the shoes of the first person to say “Hey everybody, look at this!” We all know the pleasure of being that person at one time or another. There is however a difference between being great and standing in the shoes of greatness. Mrs. Rudiselle, my fourth grade teacher, was great. You likely don't even know who she is. Nonetheless, she is great. She made the world understandable for me. In fact I can remember talking to her about this subject some 22 years after the fact.
We were learning about Leonardo Da Vinci and the subject of being a genius was on the table. I asked her what it meant to be a genius. She said that Da Vinci knew a little about a lot of things. He knew art, history, philosophy, science, engineering, etc. He was not a specialist (one who knows a lot about one or two subjects). I've lead my life under this impression of genius and it does not fail to please, as I am always ready to take on the next challenge regardless of whether it is in my “area of expertise” or not.
So what of Goodyear, Curie, or Einstein then? They were specialists. Expertise in a single area is what we now know them for. Einstein was no doubt a genius, and had knowledge in many areas, but why does the Mathematics of Physics stand out? Because it is useful to US. You and I have the advantage of the use of the theories or inventions of “great people” and therefore we extend the greatness of these advances to the very name of the person credited with saying “Hey guys look over here, I found something!” I do not wish to belittle the entirety of any great person, because I am certain that even by my definition, most “great people” were really and truly great people.
So what is “my definition” of great then? I have in my mind the cliché “standing on the shoulders of giants.” The giants are those we regard as great. But really we are speaking of the height attained. If I could stand on a rock and see as far, I would not consider the rock as great but merely as having been the only thing it could have been. The choice to be great is the choice to hold up your fellows. The choice to increase the knowledge and ability of humanity or even just one other person is what it takes to achieve true greatness. So, why am I talking about this? Who even cares? Well, I want you to be that giant.
I was speaking to one of the faculty at the college here and they informed me that some of the professors are more research oriented and don't particularly care for the teaching side of their profession. When pressed on this some even claim that the students here “aren't up to snuff” basically saying “they're too dumb to waste time on.” WELL, that's going to solve the problem isn't it? The people making this claim are deliberately avoiding the choo-choo-train to greatness. They don't want to be the giant, but rather the people standing on the ground next to the rock. If their research happens to cure cancer, I say “hooray!....but you still suck.” In fact the chances of someone bringing about such a medical advance are purely dependent upon two things: luck and the education of the pool of people. If you teach those around you to be excellent, you yourself are lifted up in the current toward greatness. So I issue this challenge to you: Dare to be Great.