GRE Issue Essay 109
“The greatness of individuals can be decided only by those who live after them, not by their contemporaries.”
How does one decide the greatness of a person? It would be unjust to claim that that the people who live after that person are the only ones who can pass a judgment on his greatness. The people who have lived with him are equally responsible for elevating the person’s status to that of a great personality. Therefore, a person’s greatness can be evaluated not only by the people who live after him, but also by the people who belong to the same generation and are his contemporaries.
The effects of a person’s actions may be seen years after his death. The history of man is full of the works of such persons who were scorned by their contemporaries for putting forth ideas that were opposed by the societies of those times. For instance, the society could not accept the theory of evolution put forth by Charles Darwin as he related the evolution of man to that of the apes. However, years after his death, people have elevated the status of Charles Darwin from a common scientist to that of a great man. This is because he had been successful in putting forth the theory that has been scientifically proven to be true years after his death. Galileo Galilei, Copernicus and Kepler all stood by the theory that the Earth is not static and it is not at the center of the universe and their theory was not accepted by their contemporaries. Galileo was even charged with blasphemy by the Pope. However, today we all know that the earth revolves around the sun and these scientists have found their way into our history books as great men.
On the contrary, if one considers the works of artists and writers, it is seen that most of these people were given due credit for their work by their contemporaries. Writers like Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Robert Frost etc, were held in high regard by their contemporaries and these good reviews helped in making these writers great in their field of work. Painters and musicians like Leonardo DaVinci, Mozart and Beethoven were all admired by their contemporaries for their immeasurable talent. Even today, these writers and artists are accepted as great people because of the appreciation that they had earned centuries ago.
The efforts of freedom fighters can be appreciated by their contemporaries to a great extent because they have lived to see the effects of being under foreign rule and they have also seen the effort and dedication put in by the freedom fighters to free their nation. Hence, they will be in a better position to decide the greatness of freedom fighters as compared to the future generations who do not know the ill effects of being under a foreign rule. Therefore, the people who live after the freedom fighters have long gone will probably not be able to appreciate their greatness as they will not be able to identify themselves with the situation that existed long before they were born.
A careful study of the examples quoted above clearly establishes the fact that it is not necessary that the greatness of men can be decided by the people who live after them. There are numerous instances when the greatness of men has been established during their lifetimes by their contemporaries. Therefore, great men have been given their due by both their contemporaries and by the people who lived after them.