What’s With All the World’s Records?

The comedian, George Carlin, once said: “If you nail two things together that have never been nailed together before, some chump will buy it from you.” I don’t know if that’s true, but it apparently is true that if you nail more of them together than anyone has ever before, you’ll be awarded a Guinness World Record.

I remember as a kid back in the ‘80’s, having a copy of the Book (it was an actual book back then) of World Records, and while some of the records listed were of dubious value, they all pretty much represented genuine achievements of physical or mental prowess.


While I lost touch, or maybe interest, in the record-awarding institution in my teen and adult years, I’ve lately seen it mentioned more and more, but with a twist. Now, gaining a world’s record seems less a function of ability than of creativity.

That is, coming up with an activity, combination of activities, or product rarely or never done or made – the proverbial ‘nailing two things together…’ – and doing it, which will likely, at least temporarily, yield a world’s record simply by virtue of its novelty.

My point here is not to advocate for narrowing or widening the range of acceptable records, but rather to examine what might be behind this surge of record-striving.

Humans are programmed with a desire to ‘leave a mark’ on the world, to excel in some way – to be acknowledged. Some are willing to push themselves to do what’s necessary to become Olympic gold-medal athletes or mega-earners. Others lack the skills, opportunity, or focus to do so, but the urge to stand out remains.

So, while they might not have what it takes to make a billion or run a record setting marathon, they can muster up the gumption to eat the most seedless Muscat grapes within three minutes with their left hand while sitting in a tree in a gorilla costume.


While the marathon champion may have aced the grape-gorilla in the effort invested in achieving the record, which certainly deserves praise, on a deeper level both of these endeavors might fail to provide the ultimate satisfaction – to scratch that ‘itch’ of greatness that we’re aching to achieve.

That’s because it’s not record-breaking greatness alone that makes us feel great.

Virtually every activity in the world can be evaluated on two scales Firstly, its physical value, which includes the effort expended to achieve it. The second is its intrinsic value.

This second scale is more subtle and elusive, much easier to ignore amidst the clamor of the first. Yet it is specifically this one that provides a person with long-lasting satisfaction and wellbeing.

In practical terms, while the marathon runner might exalt for a while at the demonstration of their physical achievement alone and the fruit of their self-discipline and vigorous efforts, it won’t compare to their sense of satisfaction if they had run as a way to raise donations for a children’s hospital or other intrinsically worthy cause.

Which itself might pale compared to satisfaction of one who ran even less than twenty-six miles, even at a far slower pace, to carry a feverish toddler, from a jungle village to a hospital where the child’s life was saved.


These are things that don’t make it into Guinness, nor do the everyday ‘small’ things we all do, like refraining from snapping at a family member, returning excess change at the supermarket, or greeting a downtrodden person with a smile.

But these are the things that truly deserve accolades, fulfill our urge for greatness, and leave a perhaps invisible but lasting mark on the world and on the timeless spiritual essence of our souls.

How to determine the intrinsic value of a given activity is a discussion of its own. But one thing for sure, without that intrinsic component, even the greatest record-breaking accomplishments are likely to eventually leave us feeling ‘off the record’.

About the Author
Nesanel Yoel Safran, US born and a graduate of Brandeis, now living with his wife and family in the Judean Hills, is a writer, chef, and a teacher/student of Jewish spirituality. He blends these assorted vocations on his blog, Soul Foodie, where you can join him on mystical cooking adventures and glean practical wisdom for the kitchen — and for living.