Ambition…an eager desire for success, honor, or power… is usually considered a positive trait. I especially am aware of this as I have just returned from a wonderful trip to the countries of Eastern Europe where my husband and I cruised down the Danube River.
I saw ambition exhibited in many different ways as we toured ancient cities and reviewed our understandings of history. As we climbed the steps of ancient Roman fortresses, I thought about all the successes that nation prided itself on – built upon its conquests of weaker nations. Then I immediately found myself surrounded by structures that were conquered and lost by Napoleon and countless other monarchs through the ages.
While the personalities who built the magnificent castles, fortresses, cathedrals and palaces died, the displays of power and honor continue to be viewed by millions of visitors each year. Most of the structures fill the cities with artistic beauty and even cause today’s bustling crowds to pause and just ponder the workmanship exhibited. However, there was also the reminder of ambition at its worst: the parade grounds and government buildings built by Hitler.
As I met people in different countries, I was really touched deeply by the disappointment some expressed in recounting their struggles under the Soviet Union’s Communism. Many were working very hard to accomplish success as they viewed it in American movies and music. I noted the exchange rate of some of their coins to our U.S. dollar, and I realized how hard they would have to toil to reach some of the U.S. luxuries we take for granted. It was a very humbling experience. (Think about $5 per liter for fuel!)
However, I did note a spirit of ambition and drive in the young people of these countries. People walked and rode bikes and generally seemed in good physical shape. What struck me as noteworthy was the desire of these strangers to share with us their ambitions for the future. It is almost like an electric current jumping from one person to the next, energizing all along its pathway.
Finally, I now reflect upon the square in Hungary and an old friend of ours. I remember how he told us he could trace the lineage of his family back five hundred years and how that family lost everything on at least three occasions. The last was in 1956 when he and a friend ran from the Soviet tanks that were squelching the rebellion in his town. Bullets took down his friend and missed him as he escaped only with the clothes on his back. So he lived life to its fullest with fast cars, boats, etc. noting, “You can lose it all in a moment!”
The cathedral builders had great ambitions…perhaps to even reach heaven with the awesome spires on their structures. My ambition in life, however, is to have made a difference just because I lived. I felt a calling long ago to teach, and I’ve been very happy carrying out that task to the best of my ability for the past 50 years or so!