While the former president of the USA was in South Africa recently, he gave a very inspiring and captivating speech to the over 15,000 people who had assembled for the Nelson Mandela 16thAnnual Lecture in Johannesburg. I have to say it was quite an amazing speech and as you know, his excellency Barack Obama is an excellent orator. The funny thing is that he was talking about some of the challenges the world in general is experiencing such as corruption and selfishness, but surprising, some of the leaders were actually laughing about it. I couldn’t help but wonder whether they were really listening to what he was saying because if they were, I personally thought there was nothing to laugh about. They should have been hiding their faces in embarrassment instead. On the other hand it was possible that they didn’t understand a word that was said. For instance, look at the below segment of his speech and tell me what is funny about it.
“I should add, by the way, right now I’m actually surprised by how much money I got, and let me tell you something: I don’t have half as much as most of these folks or a tenth or a hundredth.
There’s only so much you can eat. There’s only so big a house you can have. There’s only so many nice trips you can take. I mean, it’s enough. You don’t have to take a vow of poverty just to say, “Well, let me help out and let a few of the other folks – let me look at that child out there who doesn’t have enough to eat or needs some school fees, let me help him out. I’ll pay a little more in taxes. It’s okay. I can afford it.”
I mean, it shows a poverty of ambition to just want to take more and more and more, instead of saying, “Wow, I’ve got so much. Who can I help? How can I give more and more and more?” That’s ambition. That’s impact. That’s influence. What an amazing gift to be able to help people.”
Talk about rich fools.
That last part there, indeed what an amazing gift to be able to help people! This speech reminded me of a story I once read about an old man and a small boy who were somewhere on a beach somewhere in the world...
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
Isn’t this exactly what President Obama was talking about? The truth is, opportunities to help people are all around us, but if you are like me, you might sometimes find yourself thinking to yourself, “I really don’t have anything I can give, and besides, how much of a difference can I really make as an individual?” Well, such thinking is allowed especially when we’re talking about addressing massive social problems like tackling world hunger or finding a cure for cancer, but the truth is that there are smaller challenges that happen around us every day, whose solutions are within our abilities. So when I catch myself thinking that way, it helps to remember the above story as well as this statement; You might not be able to change the entire world, but at least you can change a small part of it, for someone.
The ocean in the above story is a place holder for the world we are living in today. It has millions of human beings suffering and struggling like the star fish in the story above. If every one of us took upon himself to do something positive for someone every day, if each one of us could just pick up one "star fish" and put it back into the ocean, can you imagine how many destinies we would have saved?
Figuratively speaking, many are the times I have found myself in the same position as the star fish in the story above, but my life has been rescued by people I least expected to get help from while those I thought would help never even looked in my direction. Friends you never know what someone is going through unless you are in their shoes, and you might not understand how easy it is to save their lives until you decide you want to do something positive for them.
I remember listening to a story about someone who almost committed suicide. On his way to commit suicide, he met this lovely lady on the street who flashed him this amazing smile and even said hello to him. That smile touched the man's heart and transformed his thinking to a point he started thinking there was hope for him. It was a simple gesture but it gave him a sudden boost of morale and those suicidal thoughts vanished. Honestly speaking how much did it cost that woman to smile to this complete stranger on the street? It cost her nothing but unknown to her, she saved a life and a destiny that day.
Friends, never under estimate the value of your little actions. There are so many examples of little actions that can change someone's life. For instance, helping a child or blind person cross the road; giving up your seat in a bus to an elderly person or a nursing mother; creating or facilitating job opportunities for people; giving business to someone who really needs it; buying food for someone who really looks like they need it, without making them feel embarrassed about it; giving someone a lift in your car and helping them get to their destination on time, etc. There are so many things you can do as a human being to make sure that you at least do the same thing that young boy did to the star fish. No matter how small you think you are, there is always something you can do to or for someone that will create a major positive impact in their lives.
While writing this article, I was reminded of a book I read towards the end of last year written by the famous Robin Sharma. The title of the book is “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari”. If you have never read that book you need to get it and read it. As a matter of fact this is the book I am recommending for this week in the ongoing #52BooksIn52Weeks2018 Book Reading challenge.
The book is an inspiring tale that provides a step-by-step approach to living with greater courage, balance, abundance and joy. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari tells the extraordinary story of Julian Mantle, a lawyer forced to confront the spiritual crisis of his out-of-balance life, and the subsequent wisdom that he gains on a life-changing odyssey that enables him to create a life of passion, purpose and peace.
Just like President Obama, he too came to the realization that he can only use so much of his wealth. Indeed, giving is a gift.
Today I just want to encourage you to look around you and see what you can do to bring changes to the world and the people around you. If you have been considering yourself too small or too insignificant to bring a change to your world, then I think I need to remind you what the Dalai Lama once said. To quote him, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
Like that little boy in the story above, a single, ordinary person can make a huge difference – and single, ordinary people are doing precisely that every day. Are you one of them?
Be ignited. Be inspired. Be influenced. Become the best version of yourself you can ever be.