Are you chasing happiness or are you seeking greatness? While many believe if you are going for one, the other is getting away; I have come to appreciate the similarities between the two. The meaning of the words can differ from person to person, but if we see happiness in similar ways, then you are already on the path to greatness.
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On February 20, 1898, Reverend John Palmer spoke about a man whom he considered the embodiment of greatness:
“If true greatness consists in that self-sacrificing heroism and devotion which makes a man insensible and indifferent to his own personal welfare, interest, comfort and advantages; and to deny himself of all for the sake of others, and for the elevation and advancement of others, without a single promise of reward — we say, if these constitute greatness, then Richard Allen, the first bishop of the AME church, was great.”
Richard Allen was the name he chose when he purchased his freedom, but as a slave, his name was Negro Richard. Richard Allen purchased his freedom and his brother’s freedom for $2000. This would be equivalent to about $50,000 today. Allen showed his selfless nature early by not leaving as soon as he could purchase his own freedom; but by continuing to live as a slave until he could purchase his brother’s freedom as well.
Greatness requires diligence and hard work, but it also requires compassion for the needs of others. Richard recalls listening to a sermon that humbled him and pricked his heart. Richard knew in that moment that he wanted to devote his life to sharing the gospel to the slaves. He established an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) congregation in Philadelphia to help other slaves in need.
The value of a good education
Richard’s congregation educated children during the day and adults at night. You may not know, but it was illegal to educate a slave in those days. In fact, it is one of the few laws that could result in a slave owner and the slave being executed. It really just speaks on the gravity and power of seeking knowledge and truth. To think you could do anything to a slave and fear no repercussions from the government, but if you educate them, you will face serious punishment.
Like Richard, if you are chasing happiness, you are going to do what is right. Richard knew the power of education and he knew to make lasting change, he needed to educate the slaves. While his actions would mean certain death if he was caught, he knew the change he wanted to create started with his actions.
Happiness is your listening to your inner drum beat
You feel better about life when you are progressing towards something. Stagnation is the feeling that causes you to seek change, purpose, and fulfillment. Each day you want to be getting better at something or you want to discover something new that will help you in the future. Chasing happiness is knowing you cannot get there overnight, but you know you are going to keep going until the journey is complete. There is a content and confident anticipation that you are going to get exactly where you need to be. Even though the odds may be stacked against you, you know if you perform at your highest level, things are going to change. When your happiness is aligned with the drum beat of your heart, you have an unrelenting resolve to make it happen. Those who are chasing some material thing often end up changing their path before they ever achieve the results. They are blowing in the wind of easy, quick and convenient; which is the path of overwhelm, impatience, and being taken advantage of.
Use your influence for good
In addition to educating other slaves, Richard wrote the Freedom Journal; which focused on the need to end slavery and the dangers of colonialism. Richard knew he had the opportunity to do something most blacks could not do at the time. He could speak out against those in power in a way that other less educated blacks could not. Through his journal, Richard was able to bring the battle to the hearts and minds of the people in Philadelphia.
Most people lack the desire to speak out against systemic issues because they do not see how one person is going to change anything. They come to the calculation that putting themselves at risk is nothing more than sacrificing themselves for something that is not going to change. The dangers of changing those in power cannot be overstated. If you speak out against those in power, those in power will flex their power against you.
Yet, you cannot create the change you want to see in the world if you are unwilling to start with your own life. Richard believed slaves should be free and educated, so he lived as if that world already existed. You will find the greatest among you are living the life they look to create, not the life they have today.
The liberty to look the other way
The famous line from Uncle Ben in Spiderman comes to mind, “with great power comes great responsibility”. If you leave known wrongs for another person to solve, you are assuming that problem will be solved before it impacts you. That is what Peter Parker did with the criminal who the police were chasing. He could have used his influence and power to stop the criminal, but instead he allowed him to be someone else’s problem. Unfortunately, that problem was not resolved before the criminal stole the car of Peter’s Uncle Ben and murdered him. It is a powerful reminder that we do not always have the convenience of ignoring wrongs within society.
Richard could not look the other way, so in addition to educating slaves, he was also a member of the Underground Railroad. If you are unfamiliar with the Underground Railroad, it is a set of homes on a path the slaves could visit on their way to the north. The slaves were traveling from the south to the north looking for the life of a free person. These homes would provide shelter, food, protection, and supplies to help the slaves stay alive and avoid capture. The members of the Underground Railroad put their lives at risk, because they could be arrested and executed for harboring a fugitive.
You are going to take risks
It is most apparent when someone is chasing happiness by rising to the challenge in these risky situations. No one was a member of the Underground Railroad for personal gain; they were all following their inner drum beat of happiness and doing what was right. And as a result of their courage, they achieved greatness and will forever have their place etched in history.
Great and still not happy
You do not want to be someone who is great by most standards and still not happy. It is scientifically proven that is much better to give than receive. And if that were not enough, there is also the spiritual aspect of it being better to give than to receive. I personally believe there must be an aspect of greatness in helping someone in need. There are too many people who have all the fame and fortune a person could ask for and are still depressed and suicidal.
Are you chasing happiness or running from fear?
There are people who believe the only way they can achieve their happiness is at the expense of others. They believe their success and happiness is tied to the inability for others to do the same. This misconception is clearly represented in Star Wars, Episode III. Anakin Skywalker is having visions about the death of his love, Padme. As fear consumed him, he lost his patience and willingness to trust anything but his own abilities. This caused him to pursue power and when the Jedi Council would not make him a Jedi Master, he sought knowledge from the Sith. To prove his loyalty and dedication to Palpatine, Anakin followed the order to kill all the Jedi and children in the temple.
While an extreme transformation for one short movie, it shows the damage desperation and a loss of hope can cause. As a result, Anakin had all the power he ever wanted, but he lost his soul in the process. He was no longer chasing happiness, but consumed by greatness. This led to an empty life of him attempting to chase happiness by efforts that would prove to be unsuccessful. It was not until he saved his son’s life from the Emperor that he realized how to combine happiness and greatness again.
Are you on the path to happiness or are you allowing your fear to guide you? The path of happiness and the path of fear are two distinctly different paths. While both give the feeling of progress, you need to ensure you are running toward happiness and not simply running away from your fears. Once you are firm on the path to happiness, you can then take steps to catch greatness.
Until next time,
Dre “Better Self, Better Wealth” Griggs
Sources: (1) The Undefeated 44: Richard Allen (2) Giving really is better than receiving (3) "We Slipped and Learned to Read:" Slave Accounts of the Literacy Process, 1830-1865 (4) Champion of Change: The 7 Instrumental Laws of Change That Will Jumpstart and Solidify Your Success, Your Growth, Your Life