Rethinking Greatness

May 14, 2014

“The greatness of a man is seen in the way he treats people he does not need.”


I was walking down the hallway of the church with John Croyle, who has to be one of the greatest men I have had the privilege to meet and be in the presence of. John played defensive end at Alabama under the legendary coach Bear Bryant, was an All-American, but after a summer of working at a camp for youths in Mississippi, discovered what he was convinced was his purpose in life—helping the children that no one else wants.

Over the last 40+ years, John and his wife Tee, and now their children (you may recall their son Brody who has his own pretty good football career at Bama and then in the pros) have become the guardians of thousands of children. First at Big Oak Ranch for boys, and now with a second one for girls, and their own Christian school, they have literally shaped the lives of these children.

John had spoken at our annual IRONMEN Big Breakfast, where he challenged the men there to be men, and to raise their sons and daughters to be responsible and contributing people. It was a challenge that we all (especially the teenagers in attendance) needed to hear in this age of entitlement.

As I listened to John speak that morning, and reflected on the dinner I’d had with him and a couple of other guys the night before, I found myself thinking that if I have one tenth the impact over the course of my life that I believe John has had, I can die thinking that I have lived a very effective life.

The breakfast was over, John had signed books (he has several out, and all are well worth reading), and I was navigating him through the labyrinthine hallways of our church to find his car.

As we were walking along, one of our newer sextons, an immigrant from Haiti was walking towards us, and I simply said, “Morning, Junior.” He responded (that is his name, for the record), and John and I continued. That’s when John looked at me and said, “The greatness of a man is seen in the way he treats people he does not need.”

I was speechless. I felt that I’d just been paid a compliment (I really believe that is what John was doing), but to receive praise from someone as great as this man made me squirm.

I reflected on this some more, and realized that John was simply affirming what my general modus operandi is. I learned a long time ago that simply acknowledging someone else is a gift to that person, and one never knows how far that impact may go. Now, it’s not always easy, especially for a card carrying introvert like me (trust me; I function outside my comfort zone about 80% of the time), but I’ve learned that simply making eye contact and a short “Mornin’” can lift the day of someone who is feeling down and unloved.

So later today, and/or tomorrow, look someone you don’t know in the eye, and greet them. Practice that until it becomes second nature. You’ll learn that the people you don’t need, need you. And you will be a gracious person of greatness. You may get to where you are going thirty seconds later—but ultimately, when you get to where you are going in the eternal sense, you will hear that longed for “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master!”