We now live in a highly connected world. Bad news, of wars, catastrophes, loss, come in mighty torrents, alongside remarkable achievements, breakthroughs, even trivia, the mundane and the plain trash.
But the usual torrent became a tsunami for me in the past few weeks. It was too much, one after another. And when they were juxtaposed with my routine, the huge difference merely accentuated the shock. There was no respite from the shocks. Before I could even recover from one massive wave, came another, and then another. What was it like for you?
First came the downing of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 and the unbelievable difficulties the impacted governments and authorities had to go through to recover and return the dead to their homes. And yet it is merely the beginning of the search for truth, responsibility and justice.
Then followed the escalating atrocities in Iraq, with the Islamic State forces advancing through major cities, and then closing in on a mountain where people who fled their homes were sheltering.
The on-again off-again conflict between Israelis and Palestinians have continued, occasionally pausing and raising hopes for a season of peace and co-existence, then dashing those hopes again, and again and again.
The death of Warren Bennis, the leadership guru, came almost as a muted sound, in the midst of this cacophony. (Who is Warren Bennis? He is called “the father of leadership”. Bill George wrote a beautiful farewell piece about his legacy. Read it here.)
Four events in just a few weeks. Where are the true leaders? Where is the enduring legacy? Who will be remembered well by the generations after them? What about me? How do I respond?
In Will You Choose To Be Great Today? I wrote that, for me, greatness goes beyond extraordinary individual skill and superior achievement. Greatness is about leaving something of value that lasts. And that requires a heart that is willing to serve.
Greatness is when a person does not recoil from taking responsibility, even extending help, participating and being part of the solution to the problem or crisis, notwithstanding how it started.
Greatness is when help is given, not because it is only politically or economically sound, but because the action affirms human values that promote life, dignity and respect.
Greatness is when power is used to build peace, not prop up choices that provide only an illusion of or undermine and destroy peace.
Greatness is when, even to the final breath, each thought, each word, each action, the will and the vision — all are firmly directed towards a better future, not destruction.
When I looked for the meaning and purpose of life, I found hope in Jesus. My faith permeates my life. That includes my writing. So it would be a huge gap not to mention that this hope helps me make sense of the tragedies, the grief and sorrow around me — whether I have suffered them myself or from a distance when I see others suffer.
Jesus also spoke about greatness. Not the greatness that is for the present life, but greatness that extends from this life towards eternity. On the way to his home in Capernaum, his followers were arguing about who would be greatest in God’s kingdom. After they arrived, Jesus taught them that the one who serves would be greatest in God’s kingdom. He took many opportunities to role-model what this servant leadership is about. The most well-known example is when he washed their feet as part of the preparation for supper – their last one together.
So what about me? How do I respond to these events? My response comes from the depths of what I believe.
Am I achieving something that for decades to come will still bless others? In business, is my work valuable not just for today but for tomorrow and beyond? What am I doing in my community. What about for my family?
Have I planted a seed of hope in a person’s life today? Have I given encouragement? Am I giving wise counsel? In the office. At the grocery store. Over coffee with a colleague. At home. In my commute to the city.
Have I ‘opened doors’ to others who need help? Even if I could not ‘open a door’ to help, have I acknowledged someone who others blindly passed by?
What am I doing to develop new ideas for a better life, to disturb the status quo for the sake of a better future, to raise a new generation of great leaders?
Even though I have limited means to impact the world, I can start where I am. And so can you.
If all of us resolve to choose to be great — to serve — wherever we are today, one day the rivulet will become a spring, the spring will become a river, then it will turn into an ocean.
One day, I hope not too far away, there will be a generation of leaders, in all walks of life, across all nations, who will serve and lead.
Will you choose to be great today and every day? Then pass the challenge to someone beside you. Thank you.