In “The 2000 Year Old Man” Mel Brooks plays the 2000 year old man. He is interviewed while at Mayo Clinic for a checkup. At one point in the interview he is asked, “Did you always believe in God?”
Brooks replied: “No. We had a guy in our village named Phil, and for a time we worshiped him.”
“You worshiped a guy named Phil? Why?”
“Because he was big, and mean, and he could break you in two with his bare hands!”
“Did you pray to Phil?”
“Yes, would you like to hear one? Dear Phil, please don’t be mean, and hurt us, or break us in two with your bare hands.
“So when did you stop worshiping Phil?”
“Well, one day a lightning bolt hit Phil. We gathered around and saw that he was dead. Someone called out, “There’s definitely something bigger than Phil!”
The greatest delusion of humanity is that we are self sufficient, all powerful and can control life to our own satisfaction. Phil represents the overbearing God complex that we all suffer from at times in our life, the desire to control everything around us.
The reality is that there is something bigger than Phil, because Phil is not nearly as big as he seems. We all need to feel connected to something bigger than Phil, something beyond our smallest need to keep life in a box. Positive psychology reminds us that it’s good for your mental health to be connected to something beyond yourself. It makes you happier.
Notice that I don’t say “believe” in something bigger than yourself. It may be a belief for some, a belief in God or a higher power. But it doesn’t have to be. There are many alternatives for those who don’t believe in God. Connect to a cause, a group, a community, a vision, the earth, future generations, whatever feels authentic to your experience. By any name or description, I am talking about connecting to your place in the broad scheme of things.
Take for example the recent Olympic Games in London. Who was the greatest athlete? Was it Usain Bolt, the self proclaimed legend who runs a million miles an hour. When he ran the last leg of a gold medal winning 4×100 meter relay, he proclaimed himself as numero uno, the greatest of all time; pointing to the sky he declared himself to be the legend of London.
Or was it Manteo Mitchell, who ran the second half of his 400 meter relay leg with a broken leg? My money’s on Manteo. He represents the ideal of connecting to something greater than yourself in a powerful way.
Bolt is a phenomenal athlete. There is no question about that. He would be even better if he acknowledged the many forces that help him to be who he is. For a start, his genes set him up for greatness. He is built for speed and this is no credit to him. When you add years of hard work, and the support of multiple people to his speedy genes, you have the recipe for freakish talent. Who knows, he might even run faster if he surrendered to the multiple, interconnected forces that make him who he is.
Think about these 3 athletic analogies for greatness.
1. Team first
As Mitchell described it, he was running, felt something snap in his leg and felt like collapsing in a screaming mess. It was when he saw his team mate, 200 meters ahead that he pushed on. He took one for the team, which is a brilliant analogy for connecting to something greater than yourself.
When Bolt finished his relay, he made no mention of the three other guys who set him up in great position to run his last leg. The best athletic analogies will always be the team events because life is a team event. When it comes to life, there are no purely individual performances. We are all connected.
2. Something bigger than the pain- keep going.
I can only imagine that Mitchell’s pain was excruciating. But he found something bigger than the pain and kept going. The same is true for all of us. No matter how painful life is, there is something bigger than the pain. For some it might be the ability to support others. It might be the compassion that comes from knowing pain. It might be the vision of what you want to do with your life, even small victories like attending the next family reunion. It might be a vision to participate in the evolution of life. However you describe it, it is a realization that pain won’t have the last word in your life.
3. Passing the baton
Passing the baton is an awesome analogy for being connected to those who came before you and those who come after you. Mitchell knew that if he passed the baton on in reasonable shape, the team had a shot at success. He likely didn’t run his fastest time, but he ran fast enough to help his team get through. His inspiration to keep going came from the power of passing the baton. Inheriting the world from our ancestors and preparing to hand over the world in reasonable shape to future generations is another way of feeling connected to something bigger than yourself. Now the Olympics are over. It’s your turn to carry the torch for the good of the world.
The Phil inside us tends to think in a very immediate way. We need answers now in order to feel in control. When you feel connected beyond yourself, you tend to have more patience and a broader perspective. Take for example this amazing quote from Reinhold Neibhur,
Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we are saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we are saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.
When we pass the baton, we should expect those who come after us to do much greater things than us, and it’s a matter of enormous satisfaction to see your work built on by other people. So many situations are sabotaged by people who can’t handle seeing their successors succeed. The very word successor speaks of succeeding. This should be the aim. Make sure those who come after you succeed. This is your greatest legacy. This itself is greatness.
Best of all, with this mindset, you don’t have to give up your power. You become more fully yourself when others thrive. Neal Donald Wash, author of Conversations with God put it like this,
The larger your understanding of who you really are, the smaller your ego.
The larger your understanding of who you are, the more you feel connected to others, the less separate you feel, the longer your view, the deeper your joy. If Bolt had acknowledged his team mates after his run, he would have become a larger version of Usain Bolt.
Conversely, the larger your ego, in other words the larger your need to be acknowledged as a self made living legend, the smaller your experience of life, the less connected you feel, the less you see the continuity of your life and actions, the more isolated you end up.
It’s a win/ win opportunity. Show your greatness by making someone else shine. Establish your legacy by helping others that you don’t even know yet, to shine and be all they can be. This is the gold medal of living with generous integrity.
Actor Samuel L Jackson put it like this-
Take a stand for what’s right. Raise a ruckus and make a change. You may not always be popular, but you’ll be part of something larger and bigger and greater than yourself. Besides, making history is extremely cool.