Have you ever taken issue with something, that at your core, you knew, was unfair or just plain wrong?
Maybe it was a policy issue such as healthcare reform or a human rights issue like poverty.
Whatever it was, it moved you to consider a solution & somehow you knew that if people could just see it, from your perspective, simply put, things would change.
Every day, most of us encounter issues that we find troubling. It is hard to ignore what we see on the news and in the papers. We are inundated with broadcasts of wars, violence, poverty, broken and flawed education and healthcare systems.
I can’t think of a single person, that I have ever known, who hasn’t taken issue with something.
This got me thinking, if so many of us feel so strongly about a need for change, what might prevent us from answering our inner call to action?
I suspect that there is no single answer.
Maybe it’s a lack of time, or perhaps we simply do not believe that a single ordinary individual can really make a difference. Or maybe we just don’t believe that we have it takes.
Whatever the reason, I am writing today to urge you, to begin to view making a difference not just as another item on your to- do-list to be postponed or opted out of, but as an opportunity to make a real and positive difference in your life and the lives of others.
Many of us may feel that changing the world or even our own circumstances would mean making a full-time commitment. And in a world where there never seems to be enough hours in the day, the idea of spare time is hard to imagine.
But the truth is that we do not have to quit our day jobs or commit our every waking hour to a cause to make a difference. Volunteering can be as varied as the people who donate their time and skills.
For example, CharityGuide.org features volunteer opportunities that require as little as a fifteen minute commitment. And VolunteerMatch.org can even allow a person the flexibility of e-volunteering from home by matching you with a cause in need of a cyber-service volunteer.
But what if a lack of time, is not the issue? What if instead we think it is a waste of time? After all, what could one ordinary person possibly do, to make a lasting difference?
History offers us many examples of ordinary people making an extraordinary difference. From Dr. Martin Luther King to Gandhi. From Mother Teresa to Rosa Parks.
All ordinary individuals who have literally changed history in extraordinary ways.
I don’t want to imagine for a minute, what our lives might be like today without their contributions.
Or a more recent example, John Walsh, an ordinary man, born and raised in Auburn, N.Y. and educated at the University of Buffalo. A businessman, who worked building hotels and spent his spare time with his family.
Pretty Ordinary, right?
But then in 1981, his six-year-old son was abducted and murdered. And everything in his life changed.
In spite of and because of his personal tragedy, he made a decision to make a difference. With the help of others who shared his passion, he created the network television show, Americas Most Wanted.
And today because of this one ordinary man, thousands of dangerous criminals have been apprehended and nearly a hundred missing children have been returned home safe.
Then there are those of us who have known all our lives that we wanted to make a difference, but we do nothing because, we don’t think we are qualified to.
We sabotage ourselves with I’m not smart enough, or I’m not articulate enough or why would anyone listen to me? Sound familiar?
Believe me today, when I say, to make a difference, you don’t have to be louder than everyone.
You don’t have to be a trained speaker.
You don’t have to be elected.
You don’t have to be a “born leader”.
You just have to care.
Over the course of the last year, I have felt honored to have had the opportunity, to be asked to speak, about the importance and promise, of funding proven addiction prevention and treatment programs, as well as the devastating effects of the political & social stigmas associated with this disease.
I am not a doctor, nor do I hold a degree in Addiction Studies. I am not a licensed psychologist or a pharmacology expert. But when I get up to speak about, it doesn’t matter.
Not a single person, legislator nor citizen, has ever questioned whether or not I was “qualified” to be an advocate?
I watched my sister battle addiction. I watched her struggle for sustained sobriety be further complicated by the stigma attached to this disease. I watched her fight for her life. And then, I watched her die.
Following her death, I took the time to research and educate myself on the facts relating to the disease and the social and political issues that surround it.
The tragedy of my sister’s death, coupled with this knowledge, affords me a unique & effective perspective on the issue. Moreover, it fills me with the courage to speak up and speak out with conviction, passion, and purpose.
I offered you this personal example to make this point.
In advocacy, commitment, passion, courage, and patience are far more valuable virtues than perfection.
To put it simply, Teddy Roosevelt said “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
If you have 15 minutes to spare, to support or work on behalf of a cause you believe in, then you have time to make a difference.
If you have the capacity, to recognize the distinction between what is and what should be, then you are qualified to make a difference.
If you have the desire and the courage to act to change it, probabilities are high, that you are destined to make a difference.
So what are we waiting for?
My message for you today, is that the change needs us, as much as we need it.
The world needs our skills, it needs our wisdom, it needs our courage, it needs our perspective, our enthusiasm and our faith.
Anne Frank said “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
In tribute to this inspiring “spirit of hope”, I invite you today, to join a new generation of change makers, in proving that with purposeful passion, faith, hope & courage, it is indeed possible for “the ordinary” to make an EXTRA-ORDINARY difference.