To Those who Cannot Do
Expectation and disappointment go hand in hand, like best friends walking down the street. One builds up the passers bye with sweet words while the other throws mud in their face. And yet, nobody kicks these characters out of town. We like expectation, even if we’re not fond of her loser boyfriend, disappointment.
Every single one of us is assigned some sort of expectation. Sometimes these expectations are assigned to us by others. Apples are expected to taste good. Good students are expected to go to college. Robots are expected to overthrow their creators.
The expectations of others can be demanding, unreasonable, or even impossible. But they are often nothing when compared to the expectations we place on ourselves.
When I was young, I was exposed to stories of antiquity. I knew all about pharaohs and ziggurats. About the ignorance and the wisdom of the ancient world.
One of the most fascinating characters of these stories was Alexander. As a young man, he conquered the whole world. Or, at least the world he knew about. Megalomaniacal, crazy, and even cruel as he may have been, he got the word “Great” attached to his name.
Thousands of years later, the influence of the long-dead Macedonian reached me. It instilled in me not just a desire, but an expectation that I should be great as well. Others expect me to work hard, or to be nice, or perform well. But all of this is nothing, because I expect myself to be like Alexander, and take over the whole world.
The expectations we place on ourselves are the worst. And those expectations don’t end with greatness. Even those of us who are great unreasonably expect themselves to be greater.
Of all the battles won and political intrigue, one story about Alexander stands out. When he was an adolescent, before setting out on his epic campaign, he was just another student.
One day his teacher, it may even have been Aristotle himself, was telling alexander about the world. He said that while the world we see is vast, it may not be the only one. Other worlds could exist beyond our vision.
Hearing this, Alexander fell into despair. “There are so many worlds,” he lamented. “And I have yet to conquer one!”
I think I might know how he felt. But then again, I am much more of an Aristotle than an Alexander.
It is better, I say, to gather knowledge than to conquer worlds. And it is better still to install that knowledge into someone else who might then go on to become great. We owe a lot to Aristotle. Math, science, history. But we don’t remember him the same way we remember Alexander. Aristotle is the master of those who know, but he is not Aristotle the Great.
I must wonder what expectations Aristotle had for himself. I relate to him more than Alexander, and yet I still want to be great. Did Aristotle want this too? Realizing that he would never achieve these expectations, did he settle for the next best thing?
Did Aristotle, knowing he would never conquer the world, just train someone else to do it for him?
Those who cannot do, teach.
I challenge the use of the word great. If one seeks to be great for personal reasons, then born is the man (or woman) who is ego-centric and self-referential. If one seeks to be great for the attention of others, then born is the man (or woman) who is focussed on idolatry and hierarchy. Replace the word great with love and I’m with you, for to love oneself and to be loved supersedes greatness any day of the week 😀