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Why aspire to greatness when you can be good?

The terrible assault on Ukraine this past week has been a frightening reminder that leaders who aspire to their own egoic visions always have been and are always going to be dangerous. I fervently hope and pray for a swift and sane outcome, for your sake and mine, for Ukraine, for Russia, indeed, for the world.

Since most of us live our lives on a much smaller scale, it’s humbling to recognize that similar behavior can show up right here in our own small and very personal world of work, home and community. It is easy to recognize in others, but it can even show up in the mirror. Some of the characteristics of an egoism include:

  • Wanting to be right --- AND prove someone else wrong!

  • Wanting to be somebody

  • Possessiveness (this is my country; you are my spouse/partner; it’s my idea, I thought of it first)

  • Reliving the past, identifying with past grievances or glories

You get the idea. In small ways, we are all often guilty of these kinds of thoughts or behaviors. We’re human and these are normal, human, social behaviors or feelings. Who doesn’t want to be the greatest? But, when they start to spiral out of control, particularly at the level of world domination, it’s not good. It’s not good in our lives, either. We all know people like this – they’ve become stereotypes: the drunk uncle at Thanksgiving, the overbearing boss or co-worker. The one with all the answers, the greatest. The one who knows better than everyone else. And, honestly, it’s a little harder to see it in ourselves, but if you try, you can. I mean, it does feel good to be right. Doesn’t it? A little? Come on, admit it. Am I saying you’re like an egotistical, heartless, self-serving world leader? Absolutely not. Am I saying we can always find a lesson for ourselves in any situation, even the most heinous? I am.

Humility is a practice. So is acceptance. So is service. So is excellence. (Speaking of excellence, listen to an interview with Jason Reynolds, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, here. If you have about an hour, the whole thing is heartwarming, uplifting and encouraging. If you want to hear him talk about how he tells kids about excellence as a habit, click in at about 34 minutes and listen to the last 15 or 20 minutes.)

One of my dad’s favorite hymns – we sang it at his funeral 39 years ago – has this refrain: Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. It kind of sums it all up, doesn't it?

I wish you – and all the world – my dad’s prayer for himself and the world. We could all use a little more humility, acceptance, service, and excellence. Let us strive to be good humans, to do our best, to spread peace. Try to be a good person, the best you can. Do that all the time. Genuine greatness – as extolled by others – naturally follows.

Peace and love to you in the week ahead.


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