This morning, as I was relaxing at the water’s edge of Miami Beach, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on a conversation four teenage kids were having on the beach blankets next to me. They were talking 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 whenever I step out of line.”
“Repression…” another snickered.
I smiled because I know exactly how they feel. When I was their age, I was certain I was being repressed and couldn’t possibly make a difference in the world. And I actually almost got suspended from school once after I openly expressed how repressed I felt in the middle of the principal’s office.
I Have a Dream
Eventually, one of the kids noticed me eavesdropping and smiling. He sat up, looked at me and said, “What? Do you disagree?” As he waited for a response, the other three kids turned around too.
Rather than arguing with them, I stood up, 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. The kids looked noticeably confused.
“Look at the word written on the paper I just handed you and don’t show it to anyone else.” The kids followed my instructions and then glared back up at me. “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 without hesitation.
I sat down on the sand next to the kids’ beach blankets and carefully laid out the four words they had just returned to me, so they could clearly see me combine the words one at a time to create a 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 last year.”
“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 people, repressed or otherwise, 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 fifty 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 nobodies!”
Together is How
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 positive 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 just shrugged, but they struggled to appear totally indifferent, so 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 than themselves, the possibilities are endless.
Together is how mountains are moved. Together is how small people create massive, life-changing results.”
Teamwork at its Finest
About an hour after I spoke to those four teenage kids this morning, I grabbed coffee with an old friend, Megan, who has spent the past two decades of her life driving teams of horses that pull carriages for “romantic rides” through downtown Orlando. In conversation, I told her about the kids and what I had discussed with them. She listened curiously and then responded with some incredibly interesting insight. Our conversation went something like this…
“I love your message of teamwork to those kids,” Megan said. “It actually reminds me of working with my horses.”
“What do you mean?” I asked with a smirk.
“Well, something you might not know is that two horses pulling together can pull significantly more than the sum of the same two horses pulling separately.”
Megan continued, “One single draft horse can pull roughly 8,000 pounds. But when you harness two draft horses on the same load, they don’t just pull twice their maximum load, they can actually pull three times their maximum load, which is roughly 24,000 pounds.”
“So, the sum of the two horses working together actually multiplies each horse’s individual payload power?” I asked.
“Exactly,” Megan said.
“That’s amazing, but how can this ‘extra power’ be explained?”
“Well, in basic scientific terms I suppose you could say it’s easier to keep a body in motion rather than to accelerate a motionless body from rest. The main reason behind this is that lesser force—one horse pulling by itself—means more allowance for friction. Thus, moving a heavy object beyond a high-friction point, to the point where it has momentum, is a lot harder than simply keeping the same heavy object moving once it has momentum. Two horses working together means less friction and more momentum, which ultimately equates to a higher payload power.”
“That makes complete sense,” I said. “You’re bringing me back to my college physics classes. But, I also wonder if there’s a psychological aspect in play for the horses. For example, is it possible that the horses are also more motivated when they get an opportunity to work together, rather than alone?”
Megan paused for a moment and cracked a half-smile. “I’d say your hunch is correct, Marc. Horses are truly pack animals with an active herd instinct. This can manifest itself in a group of horses showing an obvious willingness to do things together for a human being, that they would otherwise hesitate to do by themselves. In essence, you might be able to get a pair of draft horses to attempt to pull a higher gross weight each than you could to convince them to pull alone. A team of horses is incredibly strong and it truly is a magnificent feat to witness when they are pulling a carriage full of people all over town. It’s teamwork at its finest! And, I think, there’s an obvious lesson here for all of us.”
Afterthoughts & Questions
Why did I just share these stories with you?
Because doing so helps remind me.
And, I know you need a reminder sometimes too.
Sometimes we all need to be reminded of the power and beauty of working together.
As Helen Keller so profoundly said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” There is immense power between us when we combine forces to work toward a common goal. Teamwork is everything!
All together… we are infinite!
. . .
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