It’s Good Friday and with its arrival comes a willingness to speak of the term “sacrifice” and its many components.  A theme that precedes Christianity and other faiths, the sense of giving up something for a greater purpose has been with us from our very beginnings as a species and is remarkably common in the animal kingdom, especially when it comes to parents sacrificing for their young.

People frequently become confused when using the word.  Yes, it’s Good Friday, and, yes, it’s that time of year when we consider how Jesus gave his own life for ideals for which he lived.  Throughout the cultures of the world there are such great examples and they remind us that life is not just something to be cherished but that sometimes sacrifices have to be made for its enhancement and protection.

We intrinsically understand that every year in November, as we reflect on the remarkable offerings soldiers made in the furthering of peace.  We know that their deaths – far too many  – made it possible for us to live in peace.  There is something noble in that concept.

The term “sacrifice” often denotes discomfort today, especially in the West, where for most of us life and comfort have come fairly easy.  Yet for millennia the term meant something else, something more uplifting.

The term “sacrifice” is the result of two Latin words – sacer, which means “sacred”, and facere,who denotes “to make” or “to do.”  Put in plain terms, sacrifice meant to perform an act that would “make something sacred or treasured.”  Yes, the concept infuses all great faiths, but it also preceded them and has mattered to humanity from its beginnings.  Abraham Lincoln comprehended this more subtle meaning when, speaking at Gettysburg, he stated that deaths suffered in that great battle introduced a precious reality to humanity that only the dead could perform.

“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” 

There are some actions that humans can take that so supersede daily life that they are remarkable in their own right.  The original Latin concept of “sacrifice” hinted that there are some acts that set things apart, make them hallowed, beyond ordinary life.

And what makes such acts so special?  It can only be this: they are made with no expectation of reward in return.  It’s true that people – women, men and children – perform great things every day, but most frequently it is for an aspect of reward – investing money to make more of it, to love to acquire more love in return, to become educated to attain a higher position in life.  These are human aspirations and drive some of our great achievements as a species.

Nevertheless, there are those kind of people in life who make certain valourous or generous acts with no expectation of anything in return – they do it solely for the sake of others or the betterment of the human condition, and it is these acts that are more than generous, but become sacred or treasured.  We’ve all known such people in our lives, but, truthfully, they are rare.  Their great or even daily actions originate from a place that transcends ego or the need for recognition.  They do such things because they are right and not because they form a path that end in being acknowledged.  That’s why in most lands there lies a Tomb to the Unknown Soldier – it was not their name that mattered, but the fact that they offered themselves for the sake of changing or saving their world.

Every citizen is capable of such acts.  It’s in the overtime hours we worked for no extra compensation or recognition.  It’s in those little acts of kindness – the anonymous gifts, leaving flowers on the doorstep, nursing the young child in the middle of the night when it will never know the love that is being poured out for it.

What is it that we do each day the consecrates that moment, makes it greater that the person performing it?  Find that act and we will discover greatness in the moment.  Jesus did it, as did Mohammad, or Confucius or Buddha.  But so did Martin Luther King Jr., Malala, or the soldier buried in some hallowed ground.  And so do those leaders, politicians, public servants, or volunteers who, through their very acts of sacrifice, anoint humanity with a moment of sacredness, of nobility, of the better angels of human nature.  These are the moments that transcend basic humanity and provide it with its true greatness.