post written by: Marc Chernoff

How Small People Make A Big Difference


Small People Make Big Differences

Repression

Today, as I was relaxing at the beach, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on a conversation four high school kids were having on the beach blanket next to me.  Their conversation was about making a positive difference in the world.  And it went something like this…

“It’s impossible to make a difference unless you’re a huge corporation or someone with lots of money and power,” one of them said.

“Yeah man,” another replied.  “My mom keeps telling me to move mountains – to speak up and stand up for what I believe.  But what I say and do doesn’t even get noticed.  I just keep answering to ‘the man’ and then I get slapped back in place by him when I step out of line.”

“Repression…” another snickered.

I smiled because I knew exactly how they felt.  When I was their age, I was certain I was being repressed and couldn’t possibly make a difference in this world.  And I actually almost got expelled from school once because I openly expressed how repressed I felt in the middle of the principals’ office.

I Have A Dream

Suddenly, one of the kids noticed me eavesdropping and smiling.  He sat up, looked at me and said, “What?  Do you disagree?”  Then as he waited for a response, the other three kids turned around too.

Rather than arguing with them, I took an old receipt out of my wallet, ripped it into four pieces, and wrote a different word on each piece.  Then I crumbled the pieces into little paper balls and handed a different piece to each one of them.

“Look at the word on the paper I just gave you and don’t show it to anyone else.”  The kids looked at the single word I had handed each of them and appeared confused.  “You have two choices,” I told them.  “If your word inspired you to make a difference in this world, then hold onto it.  If not, give it back to me so I can recycle the paper.”  They all returned their words.

I scooted over, sat down on the sand next to their beach blanket and laid out the four words that the students had returned to me so that the words combined to form the simple sentence, “I have a dream.”

“Dude, that’s Martin Luther King Jr.,” one of the kids said.

“How did you know that?” I asked.

“Everyone knows Martin Luther King Jr.” the kid snarled.  “He has his own national holiday, and we all had to memorize his speech in school a few years ago.”

“Why do you think your teachers had you memorize his speech?” I asked

“I don’t really care!” the kid replied.  His three friends shook their heads in agreement.  “What does this have to do with us and our situation?”

“Your teachers asked you to memorize those words, just like thousands of teachers around the world have asked students to memorize those words, because they have inspired millions of repressed people to dream of a better world and take action to make their dreams come true.  Do you see where I’m going with this?”

“Man, I know exactly what you’re trying to do and it’s not going to work, alright?” the fourth kid said, who hadn’t spoken a word until now.  “We’re not going to get all inspired and emotional about something some dude said thirty years ago.  Our world is different now.  And it’s more screwed up than any us can even begin to imagine, and there’s little you or I can do about it.  We’re too small, we’re nobody.”

Together

I smiled again because I once believed and used to say similar things.  Then after holding the smile for a few seconds I said, “On their own, ‘I’ or ‘have’ or ‘a’ or ‘dream’ are just words.  Not very compelling or inspiring.  But when you put them together in a certain order, they create a phrase that has been powerful enough to move millions of people to take action – action that changed laws, perceptions, and lives.  You don’t need to be inspired or emotional to agree with this, do you?”

The four kids shrugged and struggled to appear totally indifferent, but I could tell they were listening intently.  “And what’s true for words is also true for people,” I continued.  “One person without help from anyone else can’t do much to make a sizable difference in this crazy world - or to overcome all of the various forms of repression that exist today.  But when people get together and unite to form something more powerful and meaningful then themselves, the possibilities are endless.

Together is how mountains are moved.  Together is how small people make a big difference.

Photo by: Milivoj Sherrington

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24 Comments

  • Very inspirational! Thank you for sharing.

  • that’s a lovely story
    one of the really interesting posts i read

  • Weirdfullywonderful
    September 27th, 2010 at 7:28 am

    Amen to that! EVERY single one of us can make a difference in at least one person’s life. If each one of us did, even to a small extent we can change the world. Each person you infect can join forces with you and bring about change!
    WORLD CHANGERS!!! :D

  • Marc, what an AWESOME story. Thanks for sharing I will definitely share with others.

  • Hi Marc,

    I enjoyed reading your story and feel that you really touched those four young people and inspired them.

    But, I couldn’t help but feel that there was something missing from the end of the article - perhaps some links to organizations or some specific ways that people can get over their fear of thinking that they can’t make a difference because the world’s problems are too overwhelming. Can I suggest a link to this ebook: “Small Ways to Make a Big Difference” which is a collection of 40 bloggers who contributed “more than 100 ways that you can begin setting an example to be the change you wish to see in the world. More than 100 ways to make a difference in the world right now.” It’s a great little ebook that will get help people get started making small changes: http://raamdev.com/introducing-a-new-collaborative-project-small-ways-to-make-a-big-difference

    Thanks,
    Karen

  • Hi Marc.

    Interesting story sir. I like how you got involved there. Most people wouldn’t say such things to others, due to one fear or another, but you just get your message across.

    Regarding the message, it sounds about right. Those who accept that they are nobody become nobody, and those who accept that they are somebody become the somebody who has a big impact on how some system or subsystem functions.

    Perspective comes first, and then action is a by-product.

  • What a wonderfully inspirational story!

  • Hi Marc,

    How are you? I really enjoyed this article, and can definitely relate to it without a doubt.

    It seems as though you’ve planted some nice seeds of thought for our young future movers and shakers ;)

    –Parker

  • Really made me stop and think… I need to write about this also.
    If only… we knew then… what we think we know now…

  • wow, great post. i am posting the link to my blog. http://www.sprinkle-of-fun.blogspot.com it would be great if this can be shared on facebook, but theres no share button lol. that is great for you to have been there, right place, right time.

  • Great post ^^ Thanks a lot for the inspiration . .

    Every time I read this blog I feel more comfortable and Happy :)

  • Thanks for sharing this inspirational story! I wish I had ran into you when I was in high school, but I’m glad I can follow your site at 25. It’s been very encouraging and has changed my life a lot! Thank you!

  • wow
    you do make a big difference!
    how I wish I am one of the boys
    listening to you on the beach
    :)

  • What a great story and truly inspirational. I can’t help but think this could be a small story about Detroit. We are still classified as an automobile town but their is a lot of tech stuff brewing and young professionals trying to make a small difference. It is hard to change popular opinion but if you don’t believe you can make a difference than you can’t think you can make a change.

  • @All:

    As always, thanks so much for the encouraging remarks and the added insight. Happy Tuesday!

    :-)

  • What a wonderful way to savor daybreak by reading these inspiring words! Thank you so much for this post. We are fortunate to have the tools of the digital age to be able to become agents of much needed change.

    The world of tomorrow is going to be so much more different than the one we grew up in. As a parent, albeit an absent one, I try to pass on what I believe will be of enduring value. But I also realize that realities are rapidly changing, and what we consider wise and prudent might not appear so to our kids as they become young adults. What will remain will be the unchanging principles of respect for life, compassion, love, and the realization that we are moving towards a shared destiny.

    I wanted to share two of my recent posts, one about a seminal cinematic work, and the other about “small people.” Trust they will bring value to the readers of this wonderful post.

    http://subhorup.blogspot.com/2010/09/amir-khan-peepli-live-oscars-83-academy.html

    and

    http://subhorupdasgupta.blogspot.com/2010/09/jimi-hendrix-mutton-dalcha-and-small.html

  • You are so right. Together we can make a difference. Thank you for the riminder.
    Debbie

  • Great story! We all feel powerless to create big change at times, but it can be done.

  • Very nice marc, thanks for sharing :)

  • i alone cannot change the whole world
    but i definetly can change the world of one person

  • Wow! Loved it. We need more people like you in the world. Glad I just found your blog. Keep up the inspiring work:)

  • I always read your blog when I need a boost of inspiration.

  • I’ve recently come upon your blog. I must say it’s great. I bet you hear that a lot but it’s true.

    I am glad some adults care enough about our generation.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Hi Marc,
    What an inspiring story. I live my life telling people they can make a difference in this world. I have cerebral palsy and try to be an example that you can accomplish anything you want with determination. I’d like to share a great website http://inspiremykids.com that is all about inspiring kids of all ages.

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