“To be great is to be misunderstood.”

Another English assignment… hooray… but anyways thought I’d share it 🙂

“To be great is to be misunderstood.”

-Henry David Thoreau

Greatness is not restricted to the acceptance or approval of others, but is a trait that can flourish by being different and not conforming to the accepted values or ideas of a specific time period. To be great does not mean to rise above all else to take a place at the forefront of society, nor does it mean to gain favor with people or a group of people. If one wishes to be great, according to this quotation by Thoreau, it is through divergent actions and ideas that this status of greatness can be achieved. Throughout history there have been people who were ridiculed and branded as crazy for their ideas by the society of that time, but are today considered to be some of the greatest thinkers, inventors, and scientists history has ever seen. This shows that, despite different ideas and beliefs, one can be great and mark his or her place in history. It is through being different and through being misunderstood that greatness can be achieved, and as a result of this greatness be remembered by generations to come.

When thinking of greatness, it is hard to explain what it is in a solid, uniform way; a mainstream definition is not nearly enough. The problem with this ambiguous word is that it carries multiple definitions, each originating from another unique mind. To a child, greatness may be the hero who slays the dragon or the valiant prince who rescues his true love, but to others, such as Thoreau, it is the person who thinks differently, the person who goes against the tide of society and is independent in thought despite discrimination who is truly great. This greatness through being different comes with a toll that some people would not be able to face, however. To some, not being liked and accepted by people is a nightmare, and is a cost they are not willing to pay. This is what the quote emphasizes about greatness, though. It takes a great person to be individualistic in a society that is constantly trying to assimilate everyone into a bland, homogeneous blend of people. To be different is a feat in itself, and to be misunderstood while holding fast to different ideas is a feat worthy of greatness.

Misunderstanding, just like greatness, is relative to the individual that spawns the definition and to the time period from which the misunderstanding originated. What makes perfect sense to one person may be the polar opposite way of thinking in a mind of someone else, even though both ideas are correct, such as the commonly debated “fastest way” to get somewhere, or a creatively different way to solve a problem. It is through being objectified as misunderstood and overcoming the assault of discontent to an individualistic level that one may become great, just like some of history’s most distinguished characters.

The ages past have sprung up numerous examples of people who were at first ridiculed and misunderstood for their ideas, but have since then become great in the eyes of society. Some examples would be astronomer and scientist Nicolaus Copernicus, who lived during a time of strict discipline when it came to scientific ideas, due to how reluctant the Church was to accept new ideas that went against scripture. His heliocentric ideas were considered heresy by the Church at that time, but were later accepted and even today the entire world accepts the idea that the Sun, and not the Earth, is the center of the solar system. Another figure who was misunderstood, and is arguably the most well-known and revered personage of the this time, Jesus Christ, was someone who faced severe discrimination for His beliefs even before He was born, and led a life full of people who were against Him and constantly tested Him with different theories and ideas. Today, however, the entire religion of Christianity is based around Him and His works. These examples show that one does not have to be accepted or understood in order to be great, but instead follow their own beliefs and ideas.

To face discrimination for an idea or way of life and remain steadfast in those traits is what makes a person great, according to this quotation by Thoreau. Greatness and misunderstanding both carry multiple perspectives, and if not for those perspectives the world in all of its diversity would not be quite so diverse. This diversity is what keeps things interesting, is what keeps life vibrant, and is what keeps everything great. Greatness should not be labeled by standards and qualifications, but by the individual traits and ideas that make everyone different and misunderstood by their peers. Misunderstanding should not become a word that carries negative connotations, because history and all of the great people it has delivered proves that it is the exact opposite: to be misunderstood is to be great, and to abide by the regulations and ideas set by society would be to defeat greatness entirely.


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