Giants in the World, Pygmys at Home

Reading a fascinating biography now on Peter the Great, recommended to me by my brother. Peter the Great was the ruler of Russia from 1682-1725. He was a giant of a man, standing 6 feet, 8 inches tall, insatiably curious and with seemingly limitless energy.
He led Russia through a series of reforms and changes which brought it into the modern world. His naval and engineering breakthroughs were instrumental into making his country competitive on an international level. And by reshaping the Russian military, he turned it into a major European empire and expanded Russia’s boundaries through his military successes.

But even as I marvel at the man’s achievements, a recurring theme bothered me from the beginning of his reign – his neglect of his family. He never loved his wife and instead saw her sparingly, spending more time with his mistress. He openly mocked her to his friends so that she constantly despaired for attention.

When she had their son, she expected it would bring them closer, but it didn’t.In fact he neglected his son as well, until he finally separated with his wife. By then, his son viewed him with so much suspicion and feared more than respected him. He tried to shape his son to be more like him, but his son resisted. Finally, at his son’s adulthood, he fled from his father, hiding in a neighboring country, causing his father much international embarrassment and jeopardizing the legitimacy of his rule. This crisis would jeopardize everything he had already built, more than any of the wars he fought.

The son almost became a symbol of resistance against his father. Much like Absalom with David in the Bible. Peter had to stop everything immediately and quell the controversy. It was only with sudden arrests, exiles, and under torture that he calmed his empire down. He had his ex-wife exiled into a monastery, many of his sons friends executed, and his own son – the heir to his throne – tortured until he “confessed” to a conspiracy against his dad. His son died from the injuries soon after.

I don’t know how distant or unloving a person has to be to see their son to be tortured and eventually killed. But it is true that when we don’t build up our family and the next generation we stand to lose everything that’s been accomplished so far.

Some questions I’m thinking of as I finish the book:

1. Is it really necessary to sacrifice our family in order to achieve success in our field? While the world will applaud our career gains, we must also learn to be content with the gratitude of the ones who know us best.

2. Am I building up the next generation to ensure that everything we’ve gained so far will be maintained and even added to by those to come? My success is connected to theirs.

3. Am we forcing them to look and be like us instead of giving them the chance to be themselves? What are the things we must pass on to them that they must carry on no matter what? And what are the things that they are free to modify, alter, or discard altogether?

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