SK22 – SEEN KAAF PODCAST – How to become great
Read full details below, transcribed. Therefore the wording often appears as it is spoken by our hosts. Please, listen to the podcast for full value.
What Greatness is
What Greatness is in a Person
So what do you think makes a person great?
Oh, my gosh, I think great is anyone that’s willing to just grow. I remember reading about the concept of progressive elaboration, which is that we basically grow as we go. And I think that’s really important to be able to do.
And I find a lot of people sort of, like, just freeze like deer and head when they’re presented with challenges. But those that really genuinely overcome those, I think deserve that merit of growth.
I may agree with a caveat, maybe. From what point do you think this growth happens?
There’s two ways of looking at it. You are inherently great because you possess in yourself some greatness, or do you reach a point where greatness can appear? And in this case, the traditional approach would be that you follow the footsteps of the ones that can produce, and then you can add once you’ve mastered.
It can be in art, for example, when you master the techniques, then you can break some rules to allow your greatness to manifest, but you don’t start from zero.
So it’s in that breaking of the rules that your greatness actually shines, because you’re not only breaking through some barriers, but you’re also introducing the world to a concept that may not have been considered before.
The danger there is what we saw that in art in the late 19th century, beginning of the 20th century, when people started to break rules, just for the sake of it.
Probably the latest great painter at the time was Picasso. He was a real master in the painting art. He mastered the techniques, but he went beyond and broke the rules. And some people followed, and they thought that just breaking the rules was the easy way to go, and they didn’t master anymore the techniques. That is sort of that trap of followers.
I remember listening to I think it was Elon Musk’s first wife, when she said it was really kind of crazy when they first became well known and he started becoming really wealthy. I think he had told her something to the effect. And I’m just, I think, paraphrasing that a man that is known for having achieved something can actually say something stupid at a party or at a dinner and still be taken seriously.
So when a great person breaks the rules, it’s because they actually know what they’re doing, and they’ve had their fair share of trial and error. But when everybody else follows, they’re just followers, and they don’t necessarily have that same track record that the great person comes from.
How to Recognize Greatness
So it brings to the question, how do you recognize greatness? Indeed, it’s not because people say so. People can be sold in the media, for example, as great people. But is it really true?
I have in mind one very simple example. It’s Mike Tyson. You know, I had a very low opinion of this man. I knew he was a great fighter. Probably from genetic magic he was able to punch his way, but what a low human being.
But then he was interviewed by Joe Rogan, two times. At the first interview, I realized this man was really, really great. And this greatness was not in his physics.
He was since his teen studying and trying to put his footsteps on the steps of the great conquerors. And he understood that Greatness is in the mind. So he’s able to tell you about the life of Gengis Khan, of Julius Caesar, of Alexander the Great. I would never have believed that from Tyson.
What I understood from the conversation is that Mike Tyson is not someone who is repeating like a parrot what he read in books. He’s someone who deeply thought about his reading and tried to find commonalities between these great leaders.
He said something like: I noticed that they were all mama boys. Oh, wow. This is a conclusion that you cannot derive from just because none of these biographies he has read has explicitly said so.
But he also said that conquerors are murderers. And all of them, at the end, they repented to God, what they thought was God, because they understood that it was taking what was not theirs. And their greatness, finally, was not so much the outward expression of strength of what we would call greatness. Their real greatness was in recognizing the truth of their behavior and repent.
There’s so much here that you’ve delved into. So first of all, there are mama’s boys. Which means that there is this essential ingredient of a mother’s love and guidance to make any man great. Which should not be any small matter in anyone’s mind. I mean, that’s huge they all had mothers who believed in them and their destiny.
That’s remarkable. Really. That’s such an important point. And I hope all young moms understand this as they’re raising their children for men and for women, for future leaders of both. And the other thing, it sounds to me like he was inspired and he really challenged himself to learn about these great men because there was a sense of drive in him.
He was driven to be like that or to be of that category of greatness. And he drove himself to the top that people on a superficial level would think it’s great.
But himself I really felt his greatness when he said: “I did my mistakes. And now I’m looking at this”. And he has this kind of modesty, which is not a self defeating thing because he still wants to be in the first place. But it’s like a paradigm shift. His place is earned by some moral value.
Isn’t it interesting, everyone that’s in that place who’s driven to greatness or who just happens to be in a position where they’re deemed great, the simplicity of their being humble despite all the fame or the power or the wealth that they’ve accumulated, helps them to be an inspiration to everybody else. So they’re, in a way, natural teachers just by what they know and how they share it.
The Link to Spirituality
The Link to Spirituality
Yes. There is a very Taoist dimension to it where in Taoism the accent is put on non acting, but it is not the absence of act. The world is seen as a turning wheel and you put yourself at the center of the wheel, so that you don’t move. It is translated in acting without looking for the fruit of the action.
It’s like what belongs to you is really the act or the intention of acting and God, or “the universe”, is allowing you to express this intention, but this opening does not belong to you. And there is some gratefulness in being able or granted the greatness of achieving something, but it doesn’t belong to you.
So it’s what my mother and possibly your mother have always said that your job is to do and it’s God’s job to make that successful. And I remember since I was a little girl, I always learned that it wasn’t the doctor – because we have so many doctors in our family – that healed this patient.
That is because an equally sick patient at the hands of another doctor had lost their battle and passed away or had not gotten cured. And so therein lies the whole sort of idea that we do and God makes success, if He wills.
And as Muslims, we know that we can go a step beyond in understanding this. We are told that the acts, their value depend on the intention and the act itself is an act of God that is granted to us. So if it wasn’t by God’s permission, we wouldn’t even think about doing the act. And it’s something striking.
For example, the salah, the prayer. The prayer, the five prayers a day. It’s like a gift. Because many people wish they could perform salah. However, they are blocked. So, the very fact that you can act that you can act on an intention is an opening, and you should be grateful for it and not attribute it to yourself.
We have in Arabic “la hawla wa la quwwata illa billah (There’s no power, no strength, except by Allah)”.
You remind me of a friend of mine who, and earlier you used the word universe, and I know in your context you were really talking about God’s powers even over the universe, who says often that when people say “oh, the universe will manifest this for me”, he tells them: why do you limit yourself to the universe? God is so much bigger than the universe. And that’s really eye opening.
If we understand the power of God, then the power of one person’s greatness is possible because of the abundance and the infinite possibilities in God’s realm. And it can be mind boggling. And I think a lot of people sort of need to sort of encapsulate that within terminology like the universe. But the universe is so limiting by that factor.
Yes, it’s a way of speaking that is really awkward. Mother Nature or the universe is just a kind of politeness towards people who do not believe there is a God, or simply do not believe in Him.
But in all: are we free or are we determined? This universe is so ordered that what happens has always been willed. And the fact that it happens through us, it’s like an honor if it’s a good thing and it’s like a trial if it’s a mistake.
But I think our job is to understand a well defined position on our vision, our strategy, our purpose. Because even by what you were saying about the people that Mike Tyson, for example, is reading about, they all sort of had to start somewhere beyond their mother’s love.
They then had to put some work into motion. They had to have a plan, they had to strategize and all that factors in by this divine guidance. So again, we tap into that guidance, and I think that’s where especially a younger mind can feel a bit lost. To what extent is it beyond their power?
Yes, I agree. We have this verse in the Quran that “the one to whom God doesn’t give light has no light”, light being the “nur”, being the guidance. So the fundamental questions is: how are we worthy of receiving this light? And this is also the whole question of morality.
I remember there was a book called Built to Last, by Jim Collins. In it he does talk about this idea of vision, people’s vision. It’s a muddy idea, really, because some people define it as being able to see into a crystal ball and being able to predict some sort of a future like, oh, we will have this outcome.
So they label that as a vision, whilst others are talking about really essentially their values or mission statement. And you know, it’s fair to discuss that. Establishing your vision and even understanding what the vision is.
For example, say a team leader, should they be running a company or should they be running some sort of an organization? There is a need to really bring everybody on board first with the communication of what these words mean.
So let’s all come on the same page of the definition of what vision means and what purpose means and even what the idea of important is. If I say something is important, it’s not that necessarily it needs to be done right now. Perhaps it just needs to be done with care. So human beings can be complicated because they’re not necessarily on the same page.
Where Do We Place Our Heart?
Where Do We Place Our Heart?
Yes, I agree. And words have meanings, concepts are hierarchical. So first things first. And I think what we can really own is our heart. Where we do place our heart. So is that a form of a commitment? You mean when we place our heart in something? Is that when we say we’ve made a commitment to something?
Yes, it is. What really do you value? And is it some superficial or apparent achievement or is it the truth? So what’s a litmus test, for example? I feel that if something has come into my heart and I’ve committed to it, if I’m able to motivate someone or inspire someone by that, then I feel like maybe I’ve got some traction. Do you agree?
Well, I think we are talking about two different things. I was not talking about your heart, in term of feelings. You put in a certain task or a certain idea, it’s overall, your whole being. Is it attached to anything else than God and the truth? Right? Once this is set, then openings are dependent on this.
And your measure of success, your measure of greatness, depends on the way God looks at you. And there’s a lot of selflessness there and a lot of what we call “shukr”, which is to be thankful. And then the thing on a lower level, when we are driven by our feelings or our heart, it can be very misleading because our hearts earthly matters can drive very bad outcomes.
So how do we know that God is looking to us favorably? I think it’s keeping constant link to Him and be very honest about our intentions, about where what do we really worship and worshipping is really about what do we think we could not live without, what does our life depend on? And if it is anything else than God, then we are probably ascribing to something power it doesn’t have.
But that’s tough for a lot of people I can understand because there is a form of letting go in that you actually have to let go and let God in charge. So you have to have this immense faith, this trust that I’m putting the action, putting things into motion. I’ve done my soul searching.
This is what’s in my heart and I feel like this is my purpose and I’ve got to go forward with it. And you have to allow yourself to put the effort in, but let go as far as the results are concerned. And that’s true. And this is consistent in all traditions. And you find this everywhere, this idea of letting go of the results of your actions, they don’t belong to you, right?
We say, for example in health, that we take care of things, but it is God that cures. But of course, those actions have to be built with the utmost sincerest intentions and a genuine desire for the greater good and outcome for all of humanity.
So there’s a lot of these factors that have to go into it in order for you to feel relaxed about the idea that the results are really in God’s hands. Because if it’s not well placed and your work is sort of going towards or against something that is good, then you can’t really trust that perhaps those results will be favorable.
We are warned. We have two verses that are very famous in the Quran. “When you say to them stop creating core damage in earth, they say we are just bettering things”. And there’s another verse: “Will I show you the biggest losers in this life? They are the one who lose themselves thinking they are doing good“.
In France there is this saying: “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. We have that. So it’s very easy to be misled about our true intentions.
But if we ask Him, if we are close to God and we ask for his guidance, we will be shown that maybe what we deem as good intention or something good is really something that we should avoid.
The Two Paths to Greatness
The Two Paths to Greatness
I was taught as I was being raised in my Muslim household with the Islamic principles and values, that if something is made easy for you, then you should continue on that path.
Because a path that’s rife with struggles and with intense hardships or even a lot of blocks, that may be a sign that it’s not necessarily the best thing for you. It could be a sign, but also we know that the best people are the most tried.
Look at the story of the prophets. You know the story of our lords Yusuf (Joseph) or Musa (Moses). They had not easy lives. They had blocks and tremendous difficulties all the way. So the difficulty in the path is not necessarily a sign of wrongdoing or wrong direction.
This is where the sincerity plays a role, and there are really two paths. It’s really selflessness and prayer and also not giving up. Those prophets never gave up on the idea of the abundance of God’s mercy and the abundance of God’s bounties.
In other words, God can bring success beyond any imagination or he can bring ease. And so they never gave up that hope in God. Whereas despair, we’re taught in Islam, is quite detrimental. The moment despair enters your system, you can crumble.
So, being great for a human being, if we come back to the initial question, for me, it’s what I really felt with Mike Tyson. So it’s just my human perception of this man. It’s really achieving greatness, but not taking ownership, having this modesty.
It’s striving to be at the forefront of any domain you address and trying to be the best in this “ihsan” way, excellence, which is demanded by God. Otherwise there is a fault.
You do things the best possible way and if you succeed, you are thankful.