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The Characteristics of Greatness

by David DeFord

Each of us has his own concept of greatness. Take a moment to think of the first three people whom you consider to possess greatness. [Are you thinking?]

The first three that immediately came to my mind (I consciously excluded my personal religious heroes) were Anne Frank, Gandhi (I just finished his biography), and Albert Schweitzer. I asked my wife to do the same. Her responses included John Adams (she recently finished reading his biography), and Martin Luther King, Jr.

As I ponder this question of greatness, I’m struck by my own compartmental thinking. I thought of general public great ones like those mentioned above, religious great ones Jesus Christ, ancient and modern prophets (yes modern prophets), and family.

I find that the famous great ones contributed something to society. Their views and actions served and lifted others. Their lives counted. They followed their “callings”. Their influences ranged the whole earth and have lasted for generations. They stirred our souls and lifted our vision.

Each had a cause for which he devoted his life and maybe even sacrificed it. Each lived through difficult circumstances but prevailed above them.

The religious heroes achieved greatness by spreading truth and virtue. They sacrificed by living consistent with their beliefs. They, too, subdued their natural tendencies to become more Godlike. They lifted others.

I think of my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and my parents. Perfect? Of course not. Great? Absolutely. I have observed their love and loyalty, their triumphs over tragedy, and their deep goodness. Their range of influence may have been smaller than Gandhi’s or Anne Frank’s, but their lives mattered nonetheless. I fully respect them.

My brothers and sister possess greatness. They love their families and live good, meaningful lives. They count.

I think of my four children, their spouses and my seven grandchildren. Their greatness already shows. The deepness of their characters shines through. Their potential for influence in this world staggers me. From where did all that talent come?

My beautiful wife possesses all of the characteristics of greatness. Her self-control, wisdom and capacity for love bless our family, and she especially blesses me. She makes me want to improve so that I can deserve her someday. Yet I know that day will never come.

Did Gandhi live a perfect life? No, but much of his greatness came from his striving for perfection. He worked at it. He pushed himself to always improve. He lived the very best life he could live. And he encouraged others to do the same. He taught by the example of his life.

Like Gandhi, we need not live perfect lives to live great lives; we only need to lift those in our circles of influence and constantly strive for improvement.

What about you and me? What can we do to live with greatness? You will have some ideas. Mine follow.

• Care about your reputation, but care more about your character
• Strive for success by bringing others with you, not by stomping on others
• Face challenges squarely and bravely
• Find a way to serve—sacrifice in your service
• Stir the hearts of others as you lift them
• Adopt a cause that can excite your passion
• Have a vision of your potential
• Knock off the rough edges of your character, don’t give in to them
• See the greatness in those close to you
• Identify the gaps between your potential and your current reality and work to narrow that gap
• Recognize that life consists not of a series of circumstances but of a series of choices

As I write to you each week, I visualize your greatness. As the number of readers grows, I feel a wonderful responsibility to help you better yourselves. I cherish the opportunity.

We do not need fame to live with greatness. We only need to influence the sphere of our association.

Yet, I strongly believe the following,

"A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race." Joseph Smith

May I repeat one line from above:

Life consists not of a series of circumstances but of a series of choices.

Choose greatness.


Related Quotes

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscience effort. Henry David Thoreau

Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved. William Jennings Bryan

I shall not remain insignificant, I shall work in the world for mankind....I don't want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living, even after my death! Anne Frank

I can't believe that God put us on this earth to be ordinary. Lou Holtz

Greatness after all, in spite of its name, appears to be not so much a certain size as a certain quality in human lives. It may be present in lives whose range is very small. Phillips Brooks

Let us consider the nature of true greatness in men. The people who can catch hold of men's minds and feelings and inspire them to do things bigger than themselves are the people who are remembered in history. . . . those who stir feelings and imagination and make men struggle toward perfection. Henry Eyring

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand. Woodrow Wilson

Everyone has the power for greatness, not for fame but for greatness, because greatness is determined by service. Martin Luther King, Jr.


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