The Seed Of Greatness

Andy brought up the topic of noteworthy people in his life. My friend included people he personally knew along with historical leaders. My friend’s quick list included two of his old high school teachers, a neighbor in his childhood hometown, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harvey Milk.

I asked about Andy’s criteria for determining why these people were heads and shoulders above the rest of society. He said that it’s simple. Those individuals planted the seed of greatness. Some planted it during adolescence and others did so later in adulthood. They planted that seed and cultivated it along the way.

This sounded plausible to me. After all, this concept has been mentioned in wisdom literature since antiquity. I wondered what Andy believed to be the main seed. He answered that it is the word “good”. All that is necessary is to be a good human being. Not necessarily a “nice” person nor a powerful person–just cultivate being a good person. This process results in goodness maturing into greatness.

My friend referred to the old philosophical notion that a person disciplines her/his thoughts, disciplines her/his learning, and disciplines her/his actions and speech. It’s easy to remember that in hierarchical terms, things are graded from bad to good to great. That is, great being the superlative form of good.

I asked his opinion about whether or not someone had to be perfect in order to be great. Andy laughed and said that would be impossible because we’re all human–humans have faults and tend to make mistakes in judgment. Andy also mentioned that it is easy to be led down the garden path by deceptive leaders and greedy interests. People who want to “own” others in debates and dominate others, mistakenly believe they are great, but those desires only reveal weakness of character. That’s just basic human psychology.

Andy’s observations show that after planting the simple seed of goodness, a person then cultivates the emerging seedling with the right practice or rehearsal with discipline. He used the example of a championship swimmer. The swimmer begins with his authentic interest in the sport of swimming. He chooses a competent coach who will keep the swimmer focused on excellence. The swimmer has basically created a simple organization to help him work towards his goal of growing from being a good athlete to becoming a great athlete.

This is basic stuff that works in every line of human endeavor. If you want to become a great cook you have to plant the seed of being a good cook then practice improving your skills in some way, every day. The same goes for artists, parents, school teachers, leaders, and so forth. The process is simple but not necessarily easy.

“Is there not some chosen curse, some hidden thunder in the stores of heaven, red with uncommon wrath, to blast the man who owes his greatness to his country’s ruin!” 18th century English writer and politician, Joseph Addison

The idea that one can lie and manipulate one’s peers and constituents to achieve a leadership role is shortsighted. Such a scheme is not rooted in goodness. Deceit and betrayal are universally considered bad qualities. So even if a deceitful, treasonous person achieves a high-status social position, that person will not be thought of as a great leader. Trampling others and sacrificing goodness yields conflict and resentment. To become a great leader requires the same criteria as those necessary to become a great athlete, great teacher, or a great whomever. To become great requires that the aspirant must plant the seed of goodness and continue throughout life.

In the end, success is not always about striving to make other people see us as great. Consistent disciplined thought and actions lead to success. If the effort is cultivated in goodness, then greatness is the likely result. It doesn’t matter if anyone else notices this greatness. What matters is our personal integrity.


The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes 19th century abolitionist, Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, and speaker, Henry Ward Beecher. “Greatness lies, not in being strong, but in the right using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry a man above his fellows for his own solitary glory. He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Contemplation, philosophy, Politics, religion and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Seed Of Greatness

  1. bloom|time says:

    My sweet senior is taking an intro to philosophy class and it’s been amazing to have some of these conversations with her! Casually interested in the Murdaugh trial, and of course with Jimmy Carter top of mind, I’m thinking that good starts with how you behave interpersonally (family, friends,
    coworkers)… if you are honest and loyal to friends and family… you’re more likely to be honest and loyal in other aspects of life? But maybe I’m wrong in a lot of instances… thinking of mobsters who cheated the system but were fiercely loyal to family… it’s an interesting topic to ponder!!!

    • swabby429 says:

      The contrast between people like the Carters and the one whose name I will not speak of, is stark. There is the non-judgemental love and compassion of Jimmy and Rosealynn, versus the transactional, conditional, fealty expected within crime families.

  2. There are a lot of selfless and decently selfless people out there. They give of themselves generously. Many physicians, nurses and teachers, for example. Many parents too, when it comes to their children. They all are pretty great. The world would be a total cesspool without them.

    • swabby429 says:

      Thank goodness for such folks. Also, this was auto published. I wrote it before the news about Jimmy Carter’s hospice care. Such a great man in so many ways.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.