Our Chance for Greatness: a simple history lesson


“If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us!” Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Recently, my husband and I were talking about an interview he’d heard on the radio. The man interviewed was Aaron David Miller who wrote the book “End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President.” The main idea of the book was to discuss our country’s Presidents and what made them great or not great. Surprisingly, he mentioned that there were only three presidents that were considered great. I thought of Mount Rushmore and guessed George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I was right.

Then my husband asked me what made them great.

“Well” I said, “George Washington organized our country during and after the Revolutionary War, Abraham Lincoln dealt with slavery and the Civil War, and FDR had to get us out of the Great Depression and deal with WWII.” Right again! I love history. I knew the events they had dealt with, but I wasn’t seeing the connection.

My husband proceeded to tell me that all these men, living in completely different era’s of history, still had major conflicts and hardships to guide our country through. And they did so successfully.

The author stated that greatness was determined by the crisis that each man had to enter into. They confronted it, weathered it, and as they did so, things changed for the better. In time they came out victorious.

The book mentioned that there were 5 near great presidents, whose circumstances were not quite as severe as the 3 mentioned above. Why did these five receive “near great” as opposed to “great” status? Theodore Roosevelt answered my very question. He lamented that as president, he never had a difficult circumstance that allowed him to become great, to show the country what he was capable of!!!! That’s like climbing a mountain and turning around before you reach the top. That would be disappointing to say the least. As I was thinking about what Teddy Roosevelt said, I had an “Aha” moment.

We will all have times in our life that are difficult, severe, and will test everything we have: our faith, our sanity, our devotion, our morals, our character! We often complain (I know I do) that we just want out of them. We can become angry, bitter, or depressed. And often our hardships bring us down and claim victory.

Instead, what if we looked at those moments as a chance for greatness? Our trials will be hard, and we will experience all sorts of emotions and stress, but we can still push through. Determination to reach the top no matter what, will bring us new perspectives, a view unlike any other and a stronger character forged with courage and perseverance. If we but weather the storm, then we can come out on top! And the view on top is beautiful.

I decided to look up his article and I found the following!

This is his prescription for greatness! He calls them the 3 C’s of success! (Read this interview)


  1. You have to have a crisis.


  1. You need the capacity, once the crisis occurs, to fundamentally demonstrate you can succeed.


  1. And you need character.


* Crisis, Capacity, Character….

Now, I know he is talking about Presidents but I have seen this demonstrated time and time again by the people I meet every day. It is exactly the kind of examples I see from the stories that we feature on our site. Greatness is achieved by proving ourselves through our trials. It will be different for everyone. No two circumstances are alike, hand sewn for us personally, individually. It is up to us to decide how we will exact greatness from them.

That “Aha” moment reminded me that my difficult experiences can help me become something more and my personal crisis’ can be my moments of Greatness! Not a bad life lesson taken from history…don’t you think?

– Tasha

This post first appeared on Real Imprints

*Historian: FDR Was The Last Great President. Let’s Never Have Another, NPR staff, Oct.6, 2014: Aaron David Miller