Chapter 18 What I expect

第十八章 我的期盼

18. What I expect

This concept of “greatness” is an interesting one. To aspire to its grandeur can result in one of two opposing consequences: the one leads to ill-placed self aggrandizement and, ultimately, despair and destruction; the other steers you to personal achievement, service, and benefit to the society. Which fascinating avenue would you choose?

I am sure that everyone can identify with this experience: you complete something, perhaps a project or a task, and the people judging your endeavors are truly thrilled at what you have accomplished with your efforts. They laud your performance and heap you with praise and adulation. This, if it happens often, is a dangerous enticement, for it leads to the door of narcissism. “In Greek Mythology, Narcissus was known for his beauty, and for his vanity: for example, he disdained those who admired him. Nemesis, the goddess of retribution against those who succumb to hubris, decided to punish him. She lured him to a pond wherein he fell in love with his reflection.”

One version suggests that he tried to kiss his reflection, fell into the water and drowned; an alternative version has him losing his will to live and staring at his reflection until he dies. Either way the narcissist is forewarned: self love can only lead to moral and spiritual destruction. The alternative path, that of greatness, has an individual discovering his true essence: his true being in the world. He then uses this self knowledge to serve others. “There are two primary ways in which man relates himself to the world that surrounds him: manipulation and appreciation. In the first way he sees in what surrounds him things to be handled, forces to be managed, objects to be put to use. In the second way he sees in what surrounds him things to be acknowledged, understood, valued or admired. … A test of a people is how it behaves toward the old. It is easy to love children. Even tyrants and dictators make a point of being fond of children. But the affection and care for the old, the incurable, the helpless are the true gold mines of a culture.”1

I recently watched a TED video featuring Byron Reese.2 The thrust of his talk was that all of us are destined for our own form of greatness, whatever that means individually. Tragically, few people achieve their apotheosis. Most claim that it is not there right in front of us: however, it is. We formulate excuses and kill or neuter our potentiality. I have no money, I am only one man, I have no friends: the list is endless. Mr. Reese notes that every hindrance to greatness, every one, has already been overcome. We are just looking for lazy reasons to fail. The key then is to accept your eminence: you are alive, are you not? We then must narrow down our gifts. Everyone has some: what are yours? As I tell my students, make a list of your strengths and your weaknesses. You will soon see your trend. This opens a world of discovery.

In keeping with the theme of greatness and discovery: nutmeg3 is now an innocent spice that is readily purchased in any quality supermarket. But between the 16th and 19th centuries, it was worth more money than gold: literally! Nutmeg was a prized and costly spice in European medieval cuisine used as a flavoring, medicinal, and preservative agent.

Most importantly: in Elizabethan times, because nutmeg was believed to ward off the plague,4 demand increased and its price skyrocketed. “In the Banda Islands, ten pounds of nutmeg cost less than one English penny. In London, that same spice sold for more than £2.10s. – a mark-up of a staggering 60,000 percent. A small sackful was enough to set a man up for life, buying him a gabled dwelling in Holborn and a servant to attend to his needs.”5 Eventually the English took control of the Spice Island of Run.6 Four years later there was a truce and they traded it for the useless island of Manhattan, as in New York. The Dutch thought that they had gotten a good deal; such are the quirks of history.

Today “nutmeg,” as a product, has virtually no value at all. It is one of the great curiosities of history that sometimes mankind gives value to a product or movement that has no value at all. The Internet would be an example. Internet personalities can become great celebrities simply by displaying their bodies -- think Kim Kardashian, for example. She has no intrinsic value but has millions upon millions of followers. Who is the most beautiful person that you know? The answer is yourself -- remember this!

So, if you are willing to “sail forth,’ where is the new quest? Can I discover it? Yes, of course -- I can be that adventurer if I am willing to be sincere and forthright with what my skills actually are. Many, however, dismiss their greatness through vices or illusions.

18. 我的期盼