Greatness is simply rising to the occasion to meet the needs of the moment -- whatever they are. Ideally it is executing with accurate perception what is needed in the moment. Thus accurate perception and not heroic action is what makes the great great and the moment memorable. To the frantic tourist traveling an unfriendly city, the timid youth directing him toward his destination may be considered great.
Yet back home this same traveler lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood may not consider the eager cab driver who accommodates. Intuitively, he imagines him as merely doing his duty. In this regard greatness is more of a perception than it is an action. If our perceptions are off, our actions will also be off. Then instead of reward will come retribution. The details surrounding the death of Saul, a Philistine king, echoes this fact.
According to legend, David, an Israelite youth, was a servant of Saul and a gallant warrior in his army. His devotion to Saul was such that he even considered him as God’s vicar. But there was a problem: Saul envied David’s gallantry so much that on eight separate occasions he tried to kill him. Still, despite Saul’s treachery, David remained loyal. In fact, when he encountered Saul during a vulnerable moment, and his soldiers urged him to retaliate David resisted, saying, “Who am I that I should touch the Lord’s anointed?”
David refused to let Saul’s envy or his supporters’ suggestions provoke regicide. Though, he would ultimately be crowned in Saul’s place. Even so, David understood that greatness required just as much self-control as it did self-assertion. Later, however, we will meet a solider whose outlook contradicted.
Near the end of his reign, Saul was wounded in battle. Rather than die at the enemy’s hand, he asked his armor bearer to kill him. But the armor bearer refused and killed himself instead. Along came another soldier, Saul, seeing him as he approached pleaded, “Please stand over me and kill me.” Grabbing the sword, the soldier stood over Saul, stabbed and killed him. Shortly afterward, he ran to David to rehearse the account.
To the soldier’s detriment David exploded because he had dared do what David himself would not. After David finished mourning, he seized the solider and executed him. No doubt, he expected David to reward his actions. After all, Saul had made eight attempts on David’s life. Now thanks to him David would never again have to consider Saul. But the lens through which each peered contradicted. So, instead of reward he incurred the wrath of an angry ruler.
Like this soldier, we too are victims of our errant perceptions. Each day we gain or miss our fortunes because of them. If, for instance, we perceive our lives to be in danger, our actions are likely to be irrational. They are also prone to alienate others. Occasionally alienation may be necessary to sever stifling relationships. Many a soul has found its destiny dangling at the frayed ends of a broken trust. Others, however, in severing ties transgressed. Their fault was forgiven but the relationship was fractured.
After cheating a spouse or business partner, many later found themselves cheated out of a beneficial alliance. Even so, the damage is done. Time reveals the folly and another partnership dissolves -- the victim of vain perceptions. When rising from inaccurate perceptions, even our altruism indicts, as the narrative below illustrates:
On the schoolyard, two youths engage a vigorous exchange. The bigger one pushes the smaller to the ground and gloats. Bouncing up, they lock arms, one struggling to overthrow the other. Along comes another youth, seeing what he perceives as an unfair contest, he intervenes by grabbing the taller teen and twists his arm behind his back. Instinctively, the smaller lad dashes toward his daring rescuer flailing both arms, yelling, “turn him loose, turn him loose, you better turn my brother loose.” Suddenly an action intended as altruistic betrays.
Therefore we owe it to ourselves to ensure that our actions spring from the most accurate perceptions possible. Before we can produce great actions, we must first possess accurate perceptions. These arise from an earnest desire to understand others and their lives. Too many of us act rashly. Thus, in reviewing our lives we behold a bundle of transgressions that caused us to reap regret where we expected reward.
A former trainer with the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation, Joel has over 20 years of sales and management experience. He is also the gifted author of thirteen books including, Journey Toward Greatness and For Dreamers Only. He resides in Charlotte, NC where he lectures in the philosophy department of UNC-Charlotte.