5 Ways You Can Become an Everyday Hero

It’s easy to underestimate the power of one person’s influence. We think, What can I do? I am only one person. Even when I was the CEO of a company I often felt this way.

The truth is that each of us wields far more power than we could possibly imagine. However, most of us have never discovered this—or we have forgotten it.

A few years ago, my wife Gail and I saw a powerful movie called Freedom Writers, starring Hillary Swank. It is based on the true story of Erin Gruwell, a rookie school teacher assigned to a tough, newly-integrated school in Long Beach. The students are mostly Black, Latino, and Asian gangbangers who hate her even more than they hate each other.

Everyone had given up on these kids—even the school. The teacher who hired her exhorts her to forget about educating these hoodlums. The most she can hope for is to teach them something about obedience and not get too involved.

Even her Dad, who had been a liberal activist, pleads with her to find a new job. Fortunately for her students, Erin doesn’t have enough experience to listen to “reason” or be so cynical.

Instead, she begins to listen to the students in a way that no one has ever listened to them before. She takes on a second job—and eventually, a third—so that she can buy them books, take them on field trips, and introduce them to Holocaust survivors. She doesn’t let a lack of resources keep her from doing the right thing.

She also teaches them about the power of writing. She introduces them to The Diary of Anne Frank and requires them to journal about their experiences. Through this simple exercise, their lives are radically changed.

This experience was another reminder that each of us has the power to change our world. We may think we are powerless, but we are not.

Power is simply the courage to confront evil, take a stand for what is right, and then act to make things different.

This is all that Erin did and look at the ripple effect—the lives of her students, the example to other teachers, a book, a movie, and the list goes on.

The movie really impacted both of us. I want to be more like Erin. I have more power than I sometimes give myself credit for.

So do you.

Here are five ways you can exercise it:

  1. Stop ignoring the evil you encounter. The older I get, the easier it is to close my eyes to poverty, pain, injustice, and evil. I can order my life, so that I am never put in a position of seeing anything unpleasant. I can look without seeing. I’m continue to pray daily that “God gives me eyes to see and ears to hear.” You can’t be a change agent if you don’t perceive the needs around you.
  2. Stop over-thinking your response to it. I have an author friend who has a policy about giving to homeless people. He told me, “Every time I used to encounter a homeless person, I would go through all kinds of mental gyrations. If I give money to this person, will they just use it to buy alcohol or drugs? Why don’t they just get a job? Maybe it would be better if I offered them some work rather than just give them money?

    Then he read the words of Matthew 5:42, “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” He then decided to make a deal with God.

    Now, whenever he encounters a homeless person or a beggar, he gives them all the cash in his pocket. Sometimes that’s two dollars. Sometimes it’s a hundred. Regardless, he decided to stop over-thinking it and start living the Gospel. The money he gives is his gift to God.

    Frankly, I like his approach. I can come up with a thousand-and-one excuses why I shouldn’t get involved. I can way over-think my response. While I may not be able to do everything, I can do something. And something is usually better than nothing.

  3. Stop complaining about your lack of resources. Erin couldn’t get the school to give books to her students. So, she got a second job and bought the books herself. The students wanted to bring Miep Gies, the Dutch woman whose family hid Anne Frank and her family, to the school to lecture. The school didn’t have the budget, so the students held a series of fund-raisers to come up with the money.

    What’s my excuse? No matter what my station in life is, it’s easy to think I don’t have enough resources. My guess is that even Bill Gates feels inadequate in the face of the needs he encounters. Resources are never—and I mean never—the problem. The biggest challenge is simply my will to act.

  4. Start asking, “What is the right thing to do?” Let’s face it. The world needs heroes. It needs people who will be courageous and act on principle. But where can we find such people? Maybe the answer is closer than we think. The truth is it can start—and must start—with us.

    God has providentially put each of us exactly where we are. We need to ask, “Why am I here?” “What does God want me to do in this situation?” “What is the right thing to do?”

    We need to be like Esther in the Bible who was in a very difficult situation. She had a very prominent social platform. She had everything to lose, including her life, if things didn’t go well. But her uncle reminded her saying, “you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

  5. Be in the moment and act. I can’t afford to wait for my circumstances to be perfect. I will never have enough experience. I will never have the resources I need. I need to stop whining and just do it! Someone else is waiting for a hero. I may be the best opportunity they have. I may be their answer to prayer.

So, you may not be able to help everyone. But you can help someone. You have more power than you can imagine.

If you haven’t seen Freedom Writers, I encourage you to do so. It will inspire you about the impact one person can have on the world.

Question: How can you use what God has given you to help someone else? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Willowrose

    If I gave homeless people, or panhandlers, all the money I had in my pocket, I’d eventually, and sooner than later, BE one of those homeless people!! I have to scrape up money just to buy my pets their food. If I gave the money to the first “person in need” that I saw then I’d have to turn around and take my pets to the nearest animal shelter and drop them off where they could potentially be put down because people can’t afford to feed their pets these days!

  • http://www.kare360.com Thad P

    Thanks so much for such a powerful post.  Sometimes I forget the power of not knowing what you aren’t supposed to be able to do. 

  • Elizabeth Ewing

    What a powerful post! I hope people really take in the words and apply them to their lives. We can do so much. This story showed up on my twitter feed earlier today and I feel like this 8-year old has really gone above and beyond most. She found a way to challenge herself and help a charity that move her. It’s short, but oh so sweet! http://www.forgottenvoices.org/blog/2011/12/14/love-jesus-love-others/

  • http://missionallendale.wordpress.com/ Joey Espinosa

    God has given my wife and I a gift and passion to work with kids. He made me a natural analyzer, and a not-so-natural writer.

    Therefore, we’ve enjoyed moving to the poorest area in our state, especially to work with at-risk kids and their families. I work here, plus have some flexibility to make connections as I see opportunities arise. I keep friends, family, and others informed of our experiences through my blog, called Mission: Allendale.

    http://missionallendale.wordpress.com/

  • Linda O’Donnell

    Linda O’Donnell, you have nudged me back on the right path.  I have a heart for service but found many excuses to only act when it was convenient.  No more.  Thank you!!

  • http://www.SpencerMcDonald.net Spencer McDonald

    It’s like our minds are melding. Over at my blog I just touched on a similar subject. My subject is centered around intentional leadership. 

    Today a leader suggested to me that it’s all right to only accomplish 20% of what you set out to accomplish. I was so confused. Really… you said you would do X and you only delivered a x and it was good enough. Good enough is not good enough. We need to start thinking bigger, on purpose, with conviction, and intention to honor what we set out to accomplish. 

    I agree we are powerful beyond measure if we only apply ourselves. The question is… did we? Can we hold up a mirror and look into our own eyes and tell the truth? 

    Go be that person who leads intentionally and agrees to honor  your commitment to doing what you said you would do or helping those you know you should.

  • http://pollyannaonpurpose.blogspot.com/ Jen Moore

    “Be in the moment and act.” 
    Powerful advice, especially when coupled with, “don’t over-think it.” You’re right, we none of us will never have enough experience. When I  look at my  little sphere of influence through my own lenses, I *know* I’m not smart enough, skilled enough, _____ enough to be able to accomplish much. Yet I know that through God’s lenses the picture looks entirely different. That’s my motivation to quit second-guessing myself so much and go *do* more.  

    Thanks for the post, and the associated prod. 

  • http://recreationalwordslinger.wordpress.com Tessa

    I’m glad you gave the giving money to the homeless example. That is usually my thought process, too. I’ve heard of ways to combat this, such as keeping gift cards on hand or having premade gift baskets for them.

    One way I personally try to do something to help is get involved through my church. We participate in something called “Full Tummy Project,” which prepares bags of food for children to take home from school on the weekends. This project is close to my heart because I am a teacher, and I hate to see kids hungry.

  • http://wechoose.co Les Dossey

    Michael,

    I love the way you ask thought provoking questions at the end of every article. It stimulates the thinking muscle in wonderful ways.

    I am gaining mastery of the model Christ used with everyone he encountered. 

    He chose to love and forgive people in advance of meeting them. This conscious and disciplined choice, empowered him to respond in love, no matter how people behaved when he met them.

    He demonstrated with his words how to respond when he encountered the world. Peace be still, move mountain, get behind me, be quiet, as well as be healed, your sins are forgiven, go and sin no more.

    He also demonstrated with his actions how to prepare and stay prepared to respond when encountering the world. He got away and spent time with THE SOURCE. He saw what he was doing and he heard what he was saying, so that he would know how to respond to the world he would encounter on his journey through life.

    And….He demonstrated and admonished everyone around him to stay awake and to pay attention. To be vigilant, be alert, because the world is looking for an opportunity to give you a sucker punch.

    P.S. I figure the best way for me to change the world is for me to do like Michaels song – work on the man in the mirror. :)

    Only the Best,

    Les Dossey
    Mentor | Coach | Speaker

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      There is a tremendous power in questions, isn’t there? Thanks.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    “Stop complaining about your lack of resources.” My wife Ellen’s always been a generous person. She has the same resources I have (as far as the bank account goes) yet always seems to have more than enough to share with others. I’ve learned from her that generosity isn’t based on a bank statement but rather on an attitude and condition of the soul. My soul shrivels when I’m a miser. It soars when I follow her generous example. Bullet-point #3 is so on target.

    • http://www.cheriblogs.info Cheri Gregory

      For many years, I felt “too poor” to tip. Sure, I’d lived on the generous tips of spa patrons when I was a starving college student. But with two small children, our income never seemed to cover our expenses.

      One day, shortly after cutting back to half-time work, I decided to leave my hair stylist a solid tip instead of making my planned stop at Starbucks. Not only did this  become a habit, but it turned out to be the best budgeting “strategy” possible for me. The more I tipped, the more abundance (and the less need) I felt. I shared more — and felt more satisfied — on 1.5 incomes than I ever had with 2 full incomes.

      • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

        Cheri,

        That’s a great example of how God blesses our hearts in ways our pocketbooks can never fully fathom. Such a practical example and easy to do (not an easy choice though–less difficult here in small town America with no Starbucks to tempt).

        By the way, I’ve enjoyed your gifts to the four personality types series. I read about gifts to the melancholy today. My wife Ellen fits into that category and your list helps me understand her better (after almost 30 years together, I still have a lot to learn).

      • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

        Great, practical example. You offer an easy-to-understand alternative (although giving up Starbucks is a real sacrifice) to pinching pennies and being a tightwad. Thanks, Cheri, for sharing.

        By the way, I read your gift series today. I went back to an earlier post on gifts to the Melancholy. You helped me understand my wife Ellen better (and after almost 30 years, I still have a lot to learn).

  • Susan

    The problem that I have with you holding up Erin Gruwell as an example to us is that, at least according to the movie, Erin did what she did to the neglect of her husband. She had no time for him because of all she did for the kids and he finally divorced her. 

  • http://talesofwork.com kimanzi constable

    This year I’m coaching an inter-city basketball team in our church league (their 9th thru 12th grade). This past Sunday one of the players revealed (not on purpose) that he couldn’t read. I had been thinking about what to do, now you’ve given me the motivation, I’m going to help him learn how to read (or die trying)! Thanks Michael

  • http://twitter.com/KellyCombs Kelly Combs

    I will be looking for the Freedom Writers movie.  Thanks for the inspiration.

  • http://www.hope101.net Lori Tracy Boruff

    I had the privilege of spending time with an original Freedom Writer (Marcus in the movie)  Manual Scott was labeled “unreachable and unteachable.” Today he has a PHD and changing lives with a message of hope! Great movie!

    I have worked with A Book by Me which is a Holocaust writing project connecting students with Holocaust survivors, WWII veterans and Righteous Gentiles. The students interview these heroes then write and illustrate their eye witness accounts in a ten page story book introducing the Holocaust to elementary students. We have five books published and 70 waiting to be published as funds come in. We are just launching Operation WRITE NOW because of the short window of time we have to capture these stories first hand. This project has the attention of U.S. Holocaust Museum/ Yad Vashem in Israel/ State Senators / educators around the world. Sidebar:  we are working with Eva Schloss – after concentration camp her mother married Otto Frank. Anne and Eva were friends and at the camp together. But as you know Anne did not make it out.

    These books are impacting the students and survivors in amazing ways! http://www.abookbyme.com

    In regards to the homeless…this week on my radio show http://www.hope101.net , I interview a man who has worked with the homeless and he shares great insight on who, what, and why. My conversation with him was eye opening for me and I encourage anyone to check it out. My son directs the ministry and also runs a transitional home for men coming out of prison. He is impacting the Quad City IL/IA area with over 250 volunteers reaching thousands of homeless families, teens and opening up housing as funds come in.

    Sorry this is so long but God has been taking me out of my comfort zone with these outreaches and it’s been a blessing to be a blessing.

  • Nicholasphitchins

    “Power is simply the courage to confront evil, take a stand for what is right, and then act to make things different.”

    Brilliant

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  • http://www.godsabsolutelove.com Patricia Zell

    I have used this movie in my curriculum for junior English along with the short story “Teenage Wasteland” by Anne Tyler. My focus in my lessons, of course, was on the students that Ms. Gruwell taught and on the message that education can change lives. However, I found that I was greatly influenced by Ms. Gruwell’s ability to connect with her students by honing in on their needs.
     
    All of us, whether we’re rich or poor in financial means, need positive input into our lives, so I have determined to be a blessing to every person I come in contact with. Sometimes that involves money, but it almost always involves pleasant words and smiles. 

  • http://CaptivatingCappadocia.com Duke Dillard

    Dear Michael, 
    this is a good word that we all need to hear. You have about a million positive comments so I am weary to write this but here goes anyway.

    1. You really should follow up this post in a few weeks or months to say how you have actually changed. I do not get the notion from your post that you are actually acting differently but rather that you want to. I would love to see what impact these thoughts have on you after a time. Otherwise, they are just good words, good intentions. I think your ideas would carry more weight if you could show how they actually worked on you. I assume you live in a rich neighborhood and go to a church full of people in the same class as you and spend your time either writing from home or going on trips to places like Catalyst where you speak to mostly white people from middle to upper middle class backgrounds. It would be  truly inspiring to hear how you actually do break out of that and connect with needy people and make a difference (more than just passing them on the way to somewhere else). I am guessing most of your readers are white middle to upper middle class and it would be good for us to see an example of someone breaking out and doing it. (Note: e-mail/comment is a difficult medium for writing like this. I do not mean to be sarcastic, cynical, or rude. I read every post you write and have benefitted greatly from your blog. I designed the layout of my blog based on yours as I think it is one of the best out there. I am just saying that I see lots of posts/columns/sermons like this that give advice that the speaker/writer does not seem to have used yet. It has its place but is not so powerful. Now you may be doing all of this but are just being modest. If that is the case, I’m happy to say I’m wrong.)

    2. You are a bastion for the primacy of marriage and family. I really appreciate that, and I have greatly appreciated your encouragement to speak positively about spouses. I live in a village in Turkey and my positive words about my wife blow people away as it is just not done here. In the context of this post, it would have been good for you to at least mention the downside of Erin’s choices. I do not know her real life but in the movie she ends up getting a divorce.  If I see tremendous change in this area of Turkey but lose my wife and kids in the process, I would not want to be considered a success. I understand that divorce happens, and I’m not judging here. I’m just saying that I would have appreciated you giving a word for the need to make a difference without losing what is most important. We see everyday when people like Steve Nash, Lance Armstrong, and on and on reach a pinnacle at the apparent expense of their closest relationships. You could say it so well, I am sure, which is why I mention it here. 
    thank you,
    Duke

  • Tbaxter

    A friend of mine never carries cash (using a credit card helps track expenses, and it keeps them safe in the event of theft). But they DO carry five one-dollar bills, to be given out one at a time when anyone asks for money, for any reason. I like the balance between prudence and generosity in this method.

  • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

    Great post!

  • Rob Sorbo

    That movie looks amazing, I don’t know how I missed it.

    I have thought about this problem solving process before, and what I have concluded is that we don’t solve problems because we approach step #1 with a “deal with it” attitude instead of a “how can I fix this” attitude. I often try to ask myself if I’m dealing with any problems that can be fixed.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Watched the video and enjoyed it. I would have never considered watching the movie without someone recommending it. Thanks for getting it on my radar.

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      I’m adding this comment simply to note a couple of cautions I would add. The movie has some rough/graphic language and at least two scenes where guys are shot. Some scenes have high tension in them–anytime someone’s fingering a gun in his pocket, it raises the stress level.

      Otherwise, the movie challenges and inspires.

  • http://candelierious.blogspot.com Lis

    I love this movie.  Cry every time.

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  • http://BrandonCordoba.com Brandon Cordoba

    Thank you Michael so great I saw Erin speak @ leadercast so inspiring!

  • Rsr777

    Loved this inspiring post…was challenged to do more…”to whom much is given…much is required”….which means I am only scratching the surface…to what I could be doing.  It’s time to “step it up”!
     

  • http://specializingintheimpossible.wordpress.com/ Laura Johnson

    I will definitely have to see that video!
    I find myself in a situation that I don’t know what to do. The only thing I can do is keep  my mouth shut, pray for wisdom, and then open my mouth with the right words when God lets me know it’s time. 
    Thank you for the encouragement. 

  • John Brown

    I am thankful for your thoughts and trying to moving us out of our comfort zone.  For some this is a para-dime shift, and for others a benchmark to start from.  Whether it’s helping a homeless person, or sponsoring a child, or volunteering a food pantry there are so many ways to give of yourself.  I work at a bank and went to Africa for a trip during the summer that will forever change the way I look at the world we live. All I have to say is people that had, in my mind very little, gave so freely and with joy.  I was able to experience a people willing to embrace a stranger, something that we as American’s have a very hard time doing.  This trip changed my life to the point that I couldn’t live my life the same way.  In fact I have felt God call me to a different way of life, and will be moving to Africa as soon as I can get the funding.  You see God has called me to change, not only my way of life, but my family’s.  To do the unthinkable, give to those in need.  I was the guy that said get a job, and not give to someone in need.  I have said don’t go out of the country to help them, lets fix America first, then worry about those in need.  The Lord has definitely done a great work in me.  He can do the same for you if you let Him.

  • Cheryl Settle

    Michael, I believe this is a great blog on helping others.  I’ve noticed people are confused on this and you brought up some great scriptures, that will take the confusion away.  I hope to see churches preaching on this more.  And, I love the book of Acts, where it clearly talks about being filled with the Spirit, who will lead us to give and make sure our fellow believers have what they need.  Thank you for sharing this!
    Blessings, Cheryl

  • http://tonychung.ca tonychung

    Hi Michael, I’m just catching up on my reading. Thanks for recommending Freedom Writers. Because of your recommendation I watched it tonight with my wife. Powerful movie. If we but choose to do the right thing in every situation, we may not become popular, but we will matter. Blessings this divine holiday season of the Christ child. -Tony.

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    – Use our special talents and gifts for the greater common good.
    – Can remain a cheer leader to someone at any point in our life.
    – Can make things happen when others prefer to wait and watch.

  • Kathy_ficek

    Michael,
    I very seldom have to  look for people in need. When I see them on the street or when they visit our church I always wonder where are their families. I then am reminded of the many blessings that God has given me. Family, food, a warm bed and so much more. When I give my day to the Lord he always puts people in my path so I can put action to my faith. Giving of myself, goods, food, or money humbles me.
    Thanks for sharing all the comments. It gives me answers to many who ask the question “DO I or Don’t I” it’s up to each individual.

    Kathy

  • http://www.facebook.com/samammari Hussam Ammari

    depending on the circumstances..Give what you can!! If  the circumstances say you need it for bus fair or gas to make living at a job or what you can. Say sorry with a touch of empathy..or do something no one would do after you notice they don’t have enough money to pay for a few things or a bunch at the store and insist to pay. Try to remember this, if  ONE vote can kill 6 Million Jews.. Than ONE voice, ONE Man, ONE Woman or ONE  Team even ONE child together can change the world in so many ways. Never underestimate the power of one..It can move mountains.

    NSA 5552

  • http://www.facebook.com/samammari Hussam Ammari

    The best way I use to apply the above..Do what you can,where your at, with what you got..(Uknown)

  • Mohit Sawhney

    I can do more than I’m doing now. Article has inspired me. I have had questions like you mentioned in the article. I hesitate giving money to homeless while I don’t mind spending lavishly where I don’t need to. That’s not fair. I can do more than I’m doing now. Thanks!

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  • Robin

    Good post indeed! Only one thing that i dont really think fit in though, religion.. i think anyone should base their acts on common sence, and what is best for every part. There is also one thing i would have added: keep in mind not all cases are wort dying for, but worth fighting for :) -green day