My buddy Chad, a 9th grade science teacher, called me at 7AM this morning in a bit of a panic. “Marc,” he said. “I promised my students I’d have a guest speaker here today, but the speaker just canceled on me at the last minute. I know you love motivating others, so is there any way you could come in this morning and be our substitute speaker?”
“What’s the topic?” I asked.
“How to save the world,” he replied with a chuckle. “I’m kidding. The speaker I had scheduled was from the city waste management counsel. She was supposed to speak to the kids about the importance of recycling and conserving the environment and so forth.”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I don’t really have any…”
“Come on, Marc,” he insisted. “Please. Pretty please! I know it would mean so much to the kids if you came in today. And I’ve been meaning to ask you to be a guest speaker for awhile now.”
I thought about it for a second. “Well… okay. What time do you need me to come in?”
“Yes! Thank you! If you could be here at 9AM that would be awesome!”
“Uh, yeah… I’ll see you then,” I replied with a bit of uncertainty in my voice.
Crashing and Burning
I arrived promptly at 9AM. After a short introduction by Chad, I walked up to the front of the classroom. I didn’t have any cool props or cue cards. In fact, I barely had enough time to think about what I was going to say. But as 42 sets of inquiring eyes stared at me, I knew I only had one shot, just one shot to convince them that they could make a difference in this crazy world. So I took a deep breath and said:
“What if I told you that you and your immediate family were personally contributing to catastrophic environmental issues around the world? And what if I told you that it gets even worse? What if I also told you that you were directly contributing to human starvation, water and energy shortages, widespread health problems, and so much more?”
The kids remained quiet but seemed irritated. “It’s true,” I continued. “You might not realize you’re doing these things, but you are…” And with every word that left my lips, the kids seemed less and less interested in what I had to say.
I wasn’t lying to them. Because I know for a fact that only a small fraction of American families live sustainable lifestyles. But I wasn’t winning any friends or influencing a single kid with my approach. I was actually doing the exact opposite – I was crashing and burning in a big way.
A Second Chance
And just when I started to seriously choke over my words, the fire alarm went off. It was just a fire drill, but I was so relived because it gave me a chance to regroup and effectively organize my thoughts. And as we walked back into the classroom, I knew I had less than thirty seconds to recapture the attention of my audience. So I took another deep breath and said:
“How many of you have ever donated canned goods to the needy? Wow, almost all of you! That’s great! Now, how many of you recycle on a regular basis?” Everyone in the class raised a hand. I smiled. “Oh, this is inspiring! And how many of you have ever held the door open for someone else behind you?” Again, almost every kid raised a hand.
“Well, I’m really impressed,” I stated in a sincere tone. “I’m so sorry. Please accept my apology. I was totally wrong about you all. It appears that we have a whole classroom filled with go-getters who are already practiced in bettering our world. You should be proud of yourselves.”
Smiles broke out across the classroom.
“Now let’s take a moment and think about something together,” I continued. What if – without making much more of an effort than we’re making right now – we could join collectively as one and feed every starving person in the world, restore the environment, inspire positive change in the lives of others, and have fun in the process? Would you do it? Would you want to learn how?”
“Yeah!” the kids replied collectively.
Well that too is inspiring!” I shouted. “Because if we could convince enough people to think the way you do, together we could do all of these things and so much more… together we could save the world.”
Again, big smiles broke out across the classroom.
There are two methods for inspiring positive change in our youth. The first is to ask them to look in the mirror and see the absolute worst of themselves, and hope that they have enough self-confidence to make a change. The second is to ask them to look in the mirror and see the absolute best of themselves, which gives them the self-confidence needed to make a change.
Photo by: notsogoodphotography