Behind The Scenes of Greatness

price-tagMost of us love to celebrate greatness, but what most of us do not know is the great price that great people pay behind the scenes.  Few people understand that individual’s whose lives have transformed our world were not so popular during their lifetime? Isn’t it amazing that the impact of the teachings, experiences and achievements of the greatest people in history were felt very late in to their lives or even long after they had gone?

Take Jesus Christ for instance. His life might have spanned for just over thirty years but greatly transformed the world to how it is now. However, he was extremely unpopular during his lifetime; so unpopular not only to the Romans who eventually executed him but also to religious leaders. Towards the end of his life Jesus was disowned by most of his family, by his friends and his trusted disciples. Sadly, Jesus Christ, the man who did so much good to so many people died a lonely death surrounded by just a handful of people.

The same can be talked about Paul the Apostle – the man, who carried the Gospel to the Gentiles, established many churches and his writings contributing over 75% of the New Testament Bible. Nevertheless, his whole life was far from that of a celebrity. He was hated by most people and was eventually beheaded for his very service that today has won him a legendary acclaim.

Towards the end of his life Paul was alone. In his second letter to Timothy (the last letter he wrote before his death) Paul lamented that neither local Christians nor his fellow workers were willing to stand by him in the Roman prisons. Paul wrote to Timothy begging him to come to Rome because he knew he was prepared to die and was suffering in chains, in a cold dungeon virtually alone.

Bible scholars tell us that Paul died a few weeks after writing his final letter. Most likely, Timothy never saw Paul alive again. Thus Paul, like Jesus his Lord, died alone, his friends, save Luke, having deserted him.

Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis was a Hungarian physician of German origin. He is well known as the pioneer of antiseptic procedures and he is best described as the “Saviour of mothers”, after he discovered that puerperal fever – a deadly disease that was common in mid-19th-century hospitals – could be controlled by hand-washing with disinfectants.

Following his contribution Semmelweis University, a university for medicine and health-related disciplines in Budapest, Hungary, is named after him. Other institutions that are named in Semmelweis’ honour include Semmelweis Medical History Museum (The Semmelweis Orvostörténeti Múzeum) located in his former home; The Semmelweis Klinik, a hospital for women in Vienna, Austria and The Semmelweis Hospital in Miskolc, Hungary. In 2008, Semmelweis was selected as the motif for an Austrian commemorative 50 Euros coin

Having learned of Semmelweis’ accolades one may consider his sailing towards notoriety was a smooth one, far from it. In fact, Semmelweis died in frustration after his findings were initially rejected only to be acknowledged several decades after his death.

Despite various publications of results, the medical community rejected Semmelweis’s ideas branding them as crazy because they conflicted with the established scientific and medical opinions of the time. Due to his work being rejected and often times ridiculed Semmelweis was deeply frustrated, plunged into severe depression and was condemned to a mental institution after being diagnosed with severe mental disorder.

On August 13, 1865, aged just 47 Semmelweis died of injuries caused by the beating and torture by numerous guards at the Mental Institution. Two weeks earlier he was secured in a straightjaket, doused with cold water and administered a castor oil, a laxative. Although the rules of the Hungarian Association of Physicians and Natural Scientists specified that a commemorative address be delivered in honour of a member who had been killed in the preceding year, there was no address for Semmelweis; his death was never even mentioned. Semmelweis funeral service that took place two days later was attended by just a handful of people.

Today, Semmelweis Reflex – a term for the tendency to reject new evidence or new knowledge because it contradicts established norms, beliefs or paradigms – is named after Semmelweis, whose perfectly reasonable and life-saving suggestions were ridiculed and rejected by his contemporaries.[1]

Do you think you are doing something worthwhile but yet frustrated by the lack of appreciation from key personalities? My advice is tantamount to keep going, don’t abandon the good work because it will surely pay off. In the words of Michael York, “you have to believe in your destiny; that you will succeed, you will meet a lot of rejection and it is not always a straight path, there will be detours – so enjoy the view.”
[1] Story adopted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignaz_Semmelweis

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