From Greatness to Goodness

As a culture, we seem to be hell bent on greatness. The push to be the best is our birthright and our destiny. How can we be anything other than the greatest? That’s the definition of America, isn’t it? And of the approximately 10 generations since the birth of the greatest nation on earth, the Greatest Generation fought and won WWII. Oh dear….if the greatest generation has already lived it’s life span, then of course we are in decline as a nation.

But the story of The Greatest Generation lives on, and for the children and grandchildren, and great grandchildren, success and excellence are the expectations. The post-WWII generations aspired to greater education, greater professions,greater salaries, greater houses, greater cars, greater tvs and stereos, and later computers and much greater electronics and stuff.

For a while, mid-century, there was greater inclusion and justice. There was greater art and music, and innovations in early education, entertainment and medicine. Neil Armstrong became the faceless face of American greatness of spirit and technology. Somehow anything was possible if “we” could put a man on the moon.

We like to think that greatness is in our American DNA, and therefore shared among Americans. Even as we cherish individualism, we like to think that we all have some share of the greatness. If we have inherited greatness in our American DNA, then certainly we can pass on the Greatness Genome.

Usually, we associate greatness with exceptional achievement. Sometimes, greatness is merely celebrity or renown. We attribute significance to those whom we consider to have greatness.

Those who bemoan our loss of greatness, tend to find significance in power and status, sometimes at the expense of goodness.

I am more interested in goodness than in greatness. If my students grew up to be good citizens, and my children responsible, caring adults, and I could contribute even through writing, that would be good work.

We’ve had national failures throughout our history, and recently a series of setbacks and scares that have many suggesting that our greatest days are behind us. Like any of us have experienced individually, failures and setbacks demand recalibration. Instead of focusing on power and status, focusing on goodness–doing good work– will surely bring about true greatness.

When we have been undeniably great, we have fought tyranny and injustice. We have created opportunities for all, regardless of status or background. We have connected and protected each other and been generous. We have extended goodwill and behaved with integrity and benevolence. When we have been truly at our greatest, we have manifested goodness.

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