Is It Better to Be a Good Person or a Great One?

Oz: The Great and PowerfulBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

If you told me I had to choose between being a good person or a great one, I’d choose to be good.

Oz at the beginning of Oz: The Great and Powerful wanted the opposite. He wanted greatness.

Oz is a magician and a conman in 1905. He lies to women and breaks their hearts. He doesn’t know the meaning of friendship or fairness.

At the beginning of the movie, a woman who cares about him (and who he clearly has feelings for) shows up and tells him another man has proposed to her. She wants Oz to tell her what she should do.

Oz tells her that the man who proposed is a good man.

“You could be a good man,” she says. The pleading in her voice is clear.

Oz turns away. “I don’t want to be a good man. Kansas is full of good men who go to church and raise their families. My father was a good man who plowed the earth and died face down in it. I don’t want to be a good man. I want to be a great one.”

He wants to be rich and famous like Thomas Edison or Harry Houdini.

While running away from a man whose wife he defiled, Oz hops into a hot air balloon, gets sucked up by a tornado, and ends up deposited in the land of Oz. (Yes, the land and the man share a name.)

And when he lands, everyone believes he’s the prophesied wizard who will save them from the wicked witch. Oz knows he doesn’t have any actual magical powers, but he lets them believe it because he sees it as his ticket to greatness—to gold, hero worship, and women.

To save the land of Oz, he has to learn that what matters most isn’t greatness at all. It’s goodness.

We can’t control greatness any more than Oz could control the tornado that sucked him up and dumped him in the land of Oz. We can make it more likely to happen, in the same way that Oz made it more likely the tornado would suck him up by being in a hot air balloon than if he’d been on the ground, but we can’t guarantee it. He could have been sucked up off the ground or left untouched in the air.  

We can’t change the genetic code that decides if we’re born with a great singing voice, or an eye for color and proportion, the creativity it takes to be a writer, or the steady hands of a world-class brain surgeon, the ability to catch a ball or to sprint like an Olympian. Wishing and working for it can’t guarantee greatness.

But goodness? Goodness is a choice. We decide whether or not we live a life of character.

At the end of the movie, when Oz and Glinda the good witch have chased the wicked witch sisters from the Emerald City, Glinda tells Oz, “I knew you had it in you all along.”

Oz smiles his cheeky smile. “Greatness?”

“Better,” she replies. “Goodness.”

Goodness will always be better, always be more important than greatness.

And sometimes, when we work hard on goodness instead, greatness follows.

If you could only have one, would you rather be a good person or a great one?

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