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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.