I recently revisited Bill Dorris’ The Arrival of the Fittest: How the Great Become Great in preparation for a tutorial I gave at UNSW. At the risk of woefully condensing the author’s insights to the point of becoming meaningless, Dorris points out that those who attain the label of “greatness” are credited with solving a key generational problem in society, or a field of play or learning; among others, he (rightly) cites the likes of Lincoln and Einstein as great. Now, the vital word in that description is surely, “generational” - quite simply, these men and women are few and far between. Why? Because the obstacles they faced were so few and far between. Essentially, it’s not necessarily about the individual achievements, but the metaphorical mountains they have to climb to get to those achievements.
I bring this up for a number of reasons; primarily, I love words and it is part of what we do in defining stories for clients at CRP, and secondly, it makes for an interesting debate. So, in light of the seemingly universal nature of greatness these days – please, enter, ‘Who is Great’ into Google Images and you get everybody from US soccer player, Oguchi Onyewu, to BB King and Harry Potter – I urge us to return the notion of what it means to be great, back to Dorris’ Himalayan heights. It can, rest assured, only serve us well.
Sport is the lightning rod of greatness, or that’s how media commentators would have us believe it. There is not a week that goes by without us being witness to apparent greatness, whether it’s behind the wheel, or in front of goal. Sportsmen and women are capable of great achievements, but that’s a big difference – it’s not greatness. The challenges they face are rarely insurmountable – the competitors are both familiar and finite; that is, you usually know the strengths and weaknesses of your opponents and there aren’t too many of them.
If there’s one individual that’s polarised the debate recently, that would be Tiger Woods. The golfer’s on-course achievements cannot be contested, but his personal challenges did much in the eyes of many to undermine any claims to the label of great. Greatness can only be earnt both on and off the course it would appear. However, if Woods’ career is to be framed against Dorris’ criteria, has he not already achieved greatness? Specifically, here was a young man of African American descent who opened up one of the most racially exclusive games to a generation of young, non-white players. Anyway, they are my thoughts – what are yours?