Focused for Greatness

How do you determine who your own personal heroes will be?

By Fred Smith

Defining the heroic quality is important in building a complete understanding of heroes. These are illustrations and not recommendations. They draw a picture for me. I have chosen each of these men for an outstanding trait of character which, in emulation, would ennoble my own life.

The apostle Paul was total dedication personified. He had gone through what Oswald Chambers called his "white funeral," in which he had literally died to himself; his "black funeral," being the physical death, would come later. He was one of the few men whom I feel that I personally know just from having studied him. He could say, with assurance, "This one thing I do." He had made up his mind. He had found his magnificent obsession, his lodestar, the race that he was to run.

Gandhi personifies dedicated unselfishness. He found a love for his people who deserved justice. He had in him that spark of greatness which was ignited when he was thrown off the train in a racial incident. Often such an incident galvanizes a person. Similarly, I knew of a labor leader who became internationally known after management had foolishly watered him down with a hose in subzero weather. Such events galvanize men of character.

Gandhi personifies our great, though subconscious, desire to sacrifice and be subservient to something bigger than we are, particularly when we feel that we personally can influence it. Part of the great social frustration is sensing the need but feeling totally helpless to do anything about it as one individual. Gandhi didn't settle for walking around the streets with a picket sign. He personified the answer. As one of my heroes. he embodies the values which I feel are the answers to life, not just the questions. He had the will to stand and be counted, though he sacrificed his life doing it.

Abraham Lincoln combined strength and gentleness. He could do his duty as he saw it though it tore his heart in two as he did it. He didn't seem to possess a superior gift but a superior spirit that matched the opportunity. He was able to be flexible without changing course or values. He lacked personal happiness but he had abiding joy.

Albert Einstein would probably be selected by few people as a hero, largely because he was revered for a gift of intelligence beyond what we find available to most of us. We seldom make a hero out of those who are so far above us that we cannot identify with them. Einstein is one of my personal heroes, not for his intellect but for his humility. I love to look in his simple, childlike eyes and see the wonder and awe that he obviously felt for life, the universe, and God. His humility was a natural state, not an acquired or disciplined accomplishment. Just as true confidence is the absence of cockiness or fear, so his humility was the absence of arrogance rather than the presence of some specific quality we call humility. His humility seemed to accrete. It was the humility that often becomes the natural state of the truly great. Einstein seemed devoid of arrogance, self-centeredness, and conceit—for these ignoble traits had been replaced by a mental and spiritual temper which let him see his ignorance much more than his knowledge—and his gratitude far beyond his rights.

Leonardo DA Vinci saw life whole and was relaxed to let it be. He didn't mount a campaign to change anything, He, probably more than any other man, fully understood the great unifying principles of life. Science, art, music, mathematics, or philosophy—they were all the same, and man was the unifying principle of creation. He never attempted to alter or manipulate truth, just to understand it. He was on the exciting "journey of the mind" and grateful for the trip. He left so little in the way of completed accomplishment that the historian Hart, though he recognized his intellect ("probably the greatest intellect that any man has ever had"), did not list him among those hundred selected as the great accomplishers of all ages. Because DA Vinci understood principles, his mind could range indefinitely, creating sketchy ideas of such great magnitude that it would take hundreds of years before they were brought to useful adaptation. He understood that life was bigger than himself, so he relaxed and enjoyed it—not by loafing but by thinking. Some called him lazy, but he felt "the more the genius, the less the work." I feel he had a very deep, real reverence for God, similar to Einstein. To me, he is an intellectual hero and his serenity a personal reproach to our hurry, scurry, activist culture. It's nice and comfortable to realize we are only a small dot in a very big picture—God's eternal universe.

Abraham is a biblical hero of vision and faith. He was willing to risk all on the unseen, the transcendental, for he knew the soft facts of life ultimately overcome the hard facts of science. He ventured into a relationship which became his reality. We need heroes to personify vision, for without vision we settle on too low a plateau.

Furthermore, I need heroes to personify persistence. In a very practical way, Edison does this as well as anyone, for any man who can fail three hundred times and take the attitude, "Fortunately for us we now know three hundred of the wrong ways, which means we are gaining on the right way," is a hero of persistence. Kipling said it well, "If you can see the things you've given your life to torn down by knaves and build them back with worn-out tools . . . you'll be a man, my son." There are times in all our lives when we need someone to personify the will to survive, the refusal to give up. Coach Tom Landry told me quarterback Roger Staubach contributed this belief to football: "You can win in the last two minutes." That is a fine legacy to leave to the game.

It is not conventional to choose a hero from your hobby. However, I have great respect and need for consistency, and golfer Ben Hogan is the personification of consistency. He paid the price; and while he is recognized for his tenacity and coming back after an accident and overcoming handicaps, the thing I admire about him is the fact that he was willing to consistently study the golf swing until he could make it repeatable, which is the secret of good golf.