Make A Difference In This World
Do you believe that you make a difference in this world?
- Lifestyle Choices: Life Is Neither Fair Nor Unfair...It Just Is.
Life is neither fair nor unfair. Life simply is! How we perceive it is the key to happiness.
- I Have A Dream Speech - Martin Luther King Speeches
Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream Speech from the Mach on Washington with quotes and pictures in the public domain.
“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps, down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision.” Ayn Rand
I was a classroom teacher for eighteen years spanning thirty years. I began by teaching Business subjects at Tacoma Community College and then at Blanchet High School in Seattle, Washington. From there I taught Social Studies and Science to middle school and high school students in Oregon, Alaska and Washington for the final fifteen years of my career. I was a popular teacher, well-loved by my students and oftentimes I have reflected upon the reasons why I was so popular.
I was certainly no push-over since I was a strong believer in classroom discipline and my demands for excellent work were well-known. I simply would not settle for mediocre and the students understood that and more often than not responded to the challenge.
My reflections brought me to the realization that my popularity and success were primarily due to the fact that I met my students on a personal level; I could often be found discussing my own past and the struggles I went through as a student, as well as discussing my achievements, goals and dreams. In other words, I became not only a teacher to them but a human being who understood struggle, doubts and success.
One of the central themes of my teaching was that each of us has a responsibility to humanity to make a difference in life. It matters not whether you are big or small, black or white, gay or straight, man or woman; the only thing that truly matters is the size of your heart and the willingness you have to affect change in this world.
When I heard President Kennedy’s inauguration address where he said, “…ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” I bought it hook, line and sinker. Those words resonated in me as few have before or after. I saw it as a declaration of our higher calling as a species, that each one of us has the ability to change the world for the better. I promptly went out and tested that theory.
In 1967 I approached my Sociology teacher with an idea. I asked him if I might be allowed to begin a neighborhood reading program for the underprivileged kids near the college and write a paper detailing the experience. The idea was approved and for the next three years friends and I volunteered our time and organized a reading program that still exists today.
In 1968 I took that same show on the road and volunteered in New Iberia Parish in New Orleans as a reading specialist for the neighboring poor.
In 1970 I ran for political office in our precinct, determined to make a difference within the political system. I lost but that did not detour me.
In 1976 I returned to college for my degree in Education because by then I believed that only through education could substantive change be obtained and secured.
The bottom line of all that was that almost forty years ago I believed that one man could make a difference and I still believe it today, and it was that lesson that I pounded into the heads of my students each year. MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
WAS I HEARD BY MY STUDENTS?
Well, the quick answer to that question is that I was always heard by my students; the better question would be did they internalize it and believe it?
I can only answer that question based on the knowledge I have of many of my students today; I keep in touch with hundreds through Facebook and I receive a brief glimpse of their lives through that social media. I would say that a small handful not only believed that they could make a difference but in fact have gone out and done exactly that. Some of those became teachers, other writers, artists and musicians. Some signed on for advocacy groups while others volunteer in their spare time to help the less-fortunate.
Many have married and now have their own children. They go to work each day, do their jobs to the best of their ability and then return home as fathers, mothers, wives or husbands. They go shopping, catch an occasional movie, cheer on their favorite sports teams and pretty much lead normal lives doing normal things. Others have fallen on hard times, beaten down by addiction, bankruptcy or ill health. They are all, in effect, a microcosm of our society as a whole, a statistical sampling of humanity. Many stated while still my students that they did not believe that one person could make a difference and they were quite certain that they could never change the world around them, while some simply did not care one way or another and were quite satisfied if someone else did the changing.
IS IT POSSIBLE?
Call me naïve but I still believe today that each person can bring about a positive change and make a difference in this world. I think many of my former students believed that if they could not make an enormous change that affected thousands then it was not worth their effort, or they believed they were incapable of making a huge difference. I would say to them that making a difference does not have to be on an earth-shattering level, that each act of kindness, each act of charity and each act of love constitute making a difference.
Listen, I understand feeling incapable at times. I understand feeling insecure about my abilities at times. I understand feeling beaten down and inferior and at times being no more significant than a fly on the back of an elephant. I have lived years when I felt that no matter what I did it just didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. We all have those moments when the enormity of life seems to dwarf any thoughts we might have had of making a difference. Hell, some would say (and I have said this myself during my darker days) that they can’t even make a difference in their own lives so how can they make a difference in the lives of anyone else?
Valid questions….understandable questions….and yet I still believe in the power of one person.
WHERE TO START?
I wonder when Martin Luther King was a young man how much of a difference he truly believed he could make. Did he believe that one day he would speak before millions and become the voice of social change in this country? Or perhaps a better example, what about Rosa Parks? Did she believe that one day her simple action of defiance would be the spark that lit the conscience of the United States?
I know a woman named Tina who serves lunch at the Salvation Army every day, every week. I wonder if she believes she is making a difference. I know another woman who teaches in a one-room school house in Wyoming making $22,000 per year. I wonder if she feels she is making a difference. I know a single father named Steve who works full-time and devotes all of his spare time to raising his son as a loving and compassionate human being. I wonder if Steve thinks he is making a difference.
Where do we start? How about here and now! I have seen grieving mothers who lost their children to a disease become national spokespersons to raise money for disease research. I have known students who left comfortable homes to volunteer for the Peace Corps because they felt compelled to do something to help others. And I have seen, and known, doctors and nurses who have quit their jobs and traveled across the country to help disaster survivors after Hurricane Katrina.
EACH ONE OF US CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
It begins with a willingness to affect change, no matter the scale of that change. I am of the belief that every single act of kindness makes a difference. I am of the belief that every single act of love makes a difference. Call me a dreamer and I am fine with that. Call me a sentimental old fool who is living in the past and I am fine with that. What I am not fine with is people believing that they don’t make a difference because they are insignificant. What I am not fine with is people not even trying!
We get one shot at this life thing! When will it be too late to begin? To me we have run out of time when we die; until then we have every opportunity imaginable to change this world one small act at a time. Do you want to know what I think would be the greatest injustice in our lifetime?
If we didn’t even try!
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
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