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What defines true greatness?

June 1, 2018
In a society that is so blindly influenced by youth, beauty, fame and fortune, true greatness is often unrecognized.

The widespread manipulation by political and financial agendas results in a warped paradigm of idealism and pretense. However, there are some people who are immune to such outside influences and live by a solid code of ethics and principles that truly benefits the world.


When I was seventeen, the world lost one of its greatest people, a woman who understood the true value of being human throughout her entire lifetime.
There is no write up in Wikipedia about her.
Her name is unknown.
This woman was my grandmother. Although she was never in the public eye, her legacy is profound.

By the age of twelve, my grandmother had lost both of her parents. Being the only daughter, she made the difficult decision to quit the school she loved in order to care for her seven brothers. With a little help from neighbors, the children were able to stay in their home and keep their family in tact.


When my grandmother was in her twenties, she got married and had two daughters. Because my grandfather was an alcoholic, he was not a reliable provider, so in addition to doing all of the caretaking, housework and cooking, my grandmother had to go to work to provide for her family. They lived in a tiny apartment in West New York, barely making the bills, where according to my mother, they had a “really good life”.

“A really good life!” This is how greatness is established.
Because of my grandmother’s love and undying gratitude for the things in life that truly matter, my mother and her sister saw their life as good.


When I was a child, my grandmother would stay with us on the weekends. Because she did not drive, she would take the bus from West New York to Toms River. I clearly remember her getting off the bus with her “grip,” a big round suitcase that represented the happiness I felt because she would be staying with us.
On Sunday, she and I would walk up to the donut shop about a mile and half away. I loved the way my little hand felt in hers, so protected and cherished as we talked about life. Because she truly loved me, she "got me". She recognized my curious nature, encouraging me to seek and discover. But most importantly, she reveled in my uniqueness, which in hindsight I now realize was my greatest inspiration.


She was always smiling and loved people with a fully open heart. She did not see race, religion or status...only people. Even with total strangers, she’d show genuine interest, sparking up conversations as if she’d known them her whole life. I adored this quality because it made me feel safe, like everywhere we went was home and the world was our family.


She didn’t wear makeup and most of the time she wore cheap house dresses with knee high stockings and sneakers. Vanity was not in her scope of concern because she would not be distracted from her purpose. And because of this, I saw her as the most beautiful woman in the world.
Comfort and authenticity were her only “fashion statements”, and in a world of superficiality and overconsumption, what a great statement that was!


Although she only had a sixth grade education, my grandmother was one of the most brilliant women I’ve ever known. She embraced life with dignity, optimism, patience and logic—something that school does not teach. But for my grandmother, loss and love taught her what truly mattered in life. She was able to take any unfortunate situation and find its hidden jewel. “Appreciate what you have while you have it, and never become distracted by what others have!” she’d always tell me. And with this knowledge, she knew how to live a happy life. She had a treasure box of wisdom that was far beyond the limits of a superficial, competitive society.


My grandmother’s joy and purpose was to take care of the people she loved. She NEVER looked for reward or recognition; only happiness in the faces of her loved ones.

Her efforts were tireless and her focus was constant. Although she had much in her life that many people would see as less than ideal, she always told me how incredibly blessed she was.


By example, this amazing woman taught me the most valuable lesson in the world—unconditional love, a phrase that is used quite often, but I’m not sure how often it is truly embraced.
My grandmother got it.

Unconditional love is a virtue that radiates principles and priorities of divine order; it does not seek recognition or reward—and there is no human act or purpose that surpasses this.
To me, this is true greatness.


I could easily spotlight the contrasts of the world to make my point stronger, but I would be going against the virtues of gratitude that my grandmother taught me.

So, all I will say is that true greatness is not measured by fame, fortune, a physical form or even one’s efforts, because many times a person’s efforts are not based on sincerity.
True greatness is measured by a person’s truest intentions and devotion to the wellbeing of others. The greatest people maintain this divine virtue because they do not be come derailed or distracted by the desire for recognition or reward.


I share this story with hope that my grandmother’s virtues can be recognized in others and within yourself, (which will ultimately lead to a better world).

So to sum up the most profound lessons I learned from my grandmother:

  • When life seems bad, find the Love in your life and know that Love truly is the best thing there is.
  • If you don’t have Love in your life then simply love without expectation—and from this you will find Love.
  • Focus on what’s good in your life rather than what’s not and you will be happy.
  • Inspiration is the highest and most effective form of guidance.
  • Love unconditionally (for it truly is the only way).
  • Recognize and honor the heroes your life (there just may be more than you think) and then bask in the brilliance of their Light!

This is the legacy of true greatness.

The great Tao flows everywhere;
It can go left; it can go right.
The myriad things owe their existence to it,
And it does not reject them.
When its work is accomplished,
It does not take possession.
It clothes and feeds all,
But does not pose as their master.
Ever without ambition,
It may be called Small.
All things return to it as their home,
And yet it does not pose as their master,
Therefore it may be called Great.
Because it would never claim greatness,
Therefore its greatness is fully realized.
Taoism. Tao Te Ching 34

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