What Makes Great People Great? The Great Man Theory By Thomas Carlyle

You could be Mahatma Gandhi. Your friend could be Martin Luther King. Your mentor could be Einstein. And your sister could be Mother Teresa; except for they are not, nor are you, Gandhi. Nonetheless, you could be great. You could be you. But will the world remember You?




In other words, will history remember you, once you are gone? Thomas Carlyle made this observation in the 1840s that “History of the world is but the biography of Great Men”. Think about this: biographies, autobiographies, books on politics and administration, were mostly written by the scholars and eminent court members, often whose agenda was to impress the political head or further other political agendas. Then where are the stories of the masses covered? You see, history doesn’t remember everyone. It remembers people of significance; people of power; Great People.


What makes a Great Person Great?

Nothing “makes” them great.

Greatness is inborn

- Great Man Theory by Thomas Carlyle




Great Man Theory is also called the Great Man Theory of Leadership and Great Person Theory. In addition to the inborn exclusive trait of leadership, what this theory also states is that the mighty person needs a situation to bring their leadership to the surface. These great men turn out as highly influential, charismatic, and achievers in their unique endeavors leaving a great impact on society. This is the moment of realization for taking charge. For Mahatma Gandhi, that moment of “kick” in life must have been when he was exposed to racial discrimination in a train of Africa, that he initiated the non-obedience movement against the discrimination. He returned to India after a few years and fought for the liberation of his countrymen non-violently.




Non-violence. Now, this was something different in his struggle. The novelty factor, which the world remembers him for, which also, inspired Martin Luther King in his cause. Great Men think differently. They are visionary, powerful, and somewhat divined. They tend to become orators, whom the masses follow like a herd. This however is not the only tendency, for we must not forget Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and Steve Jobs for that matter. Great Man Theory claims, that these people have an outsider’s view of society. Also, their motive is not personal but societal. How otherwise would society remember them?




Full stop. Does this make you lose hope of ever being great? If you weren’t born great, you have already lost your shot.




But wait, there are contradicting theories, like trait theory. It says that leadership qualities or “traits” could be acquired. Then there is the most popular criticism from Herbert Spencer, who says that society must make the man before he remakes the society. This statement is again criticized and it is an endless enigma as to who makes whom: The leader makes the society or the society makes the leader.




Then there’s Contingency theory which says that an effective leader in one environment will be an ineffective leader in another environment. Imagine Mahatma Gandhi protesting in China or Hong Kong for better understanding. His whereabouts would have been diminished at the slightest sense of threat, and the uprisings would be suppressed. His identity deleted from the internet and the mass prohibited from discussing the event publically.




Great Man Theory was earlier named so because leadership was expected of manhood, not to mention unexpected of and in many cases unacceptable under womanhood. (Owing to which Rajia Sultan, first female ruler of Medieval India (13th century) was conspired against and killed by her male court members and blah blah blah, to mention only one such incident)

The Great Man Theory was later renamed to Great Person Theory.




There is zero certainty or standard code for the rearing of great men. Nonetheless, our society tries, our parents try, our coaching system, oh they don’t try. Rather their focus is money. And who are we blaming? Ain’t it you and I who actually want to be great? In a room full of 100 people, the one that is remembered by everybody is none other than the leader. We are hero-worshipers. We have always been and will remain so. Competition to be great, to be on top, is common throughout the animal kingdom. Then there comes the chance to leave a legacy behind in mankind.




It’s later in life that people learn to settle with less or sufficient, giving up big billion dreams. There are many working for it. There are many convincing themselves falsely that yes they will get there. Then there are many who have made peace with the ordinary, and become a part of the herd.




Also, how can you be sure of a great person born? In my opinion, great people aren’t born so. They are discovered so. Well, until then everybody is ordinary like Winston Churchill was, the man born in an aristocratic family and son of a great public speaker, fumbled reading from his notes. He was the same man that everybody laughed at, who went on to become one of the finest orators history has ever seen, besides contributing to victory against Nazis during the Second World War.




Hope you learned something new.


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