We have heard and seen this phrase repeatedly in the last year: "Make America Great Again." I'm not sure I know what that means. What is greatness? Was American ever "great" and if so, what made American great? During what period of years was that greatness evidenced? (While voicing this question, I am not discounting the many good things that are part of American life, such as essential human freedoms, opportunity for advancement and the "melting pot" where all kinds of cultures and ethnicities live together in relative peace.) The Statue of Liberty (dedicated on October 28, 1886) represents a spirit of greatness, or at least, of great compassionate intent. It was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the United States and is an iconic symbol of freedom and democracy. On the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty are scripted these lines from a poem "The New Colossus," written by Emma Lazarus: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" I see this invitation as a sign of greatness because it indicates a spirit of goodness as well. Is America turning away from this kindness today? If so, can she ever be "great" again?
Canada has her own troubles. There is a lot of fear regarding refugees and/or immigrants. Can we be a "great" nation if we restrict our spirit of kindness and openness, selectively offering refuge to only a few when so many are in desperate need of a safe and healthy place to live? What about our treatment of First Nations people? We ripped the children from homes and parents, placing them in residential schools in hopes of making them "white" English-speaking Christians. Are we treating them any better today? Do we value their cultures? And what about our choice of leaders and governments? Will we opt for so-called greatness and ignore goodness?
Can there be true greatness without goodness? There have been many powerful people and nations throughout history but I would suggest they did not exhibit true greatness because they were ego-centric and uncompassionate, destroying their countries, harming others while protecting themselves and their associates. They were not good people; therefore they were not great. What if countries and leaders increasingly accepted that goodness is essential in greatness? Surely this would limit self-interest and ensure the well-being of all people. It would guarantee the enactment of laws that provide equal freedom and privilege to all, regardless of religion, ethnicity, economic status or gender. If we truly believed that greatness is impossible without goodness, this world would be a much better place.
If you aspire to greatness, make sure you pay attention to goodness. Before you admire or support someone, make certain their great qualities are coupled solidly with goodness. And if you are into memorable or catchy phrases, remember this Latin one: Nil magnum nisi bonum. Broadly translated: "Nothing is great unless good."