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Have you ever felt disturbed at the atrocities depicted on the news or fearful about the economy or powerless within your own family? Of course you have. We all have. It's common to feel helpless when faced with a challenge. Most people do; but the truth is that great differences are most often made by the Power of One.
Mahatma Gandhi was not a theatrical speaker, but he was the catalyst for India's independence from British rule. His power arose from his identification with his own people and from his integrity. A member of the privileged class, Ghandi identified with the objects of discrimination and oppression among his people. He did not exhort people to take action, then go home to a big dinner in a comfortable house. He made his own garments and often fasted in protest at the injustice of British rule. When the British crown imposed a tax on salt, Gandhi got up and started walking to the sea. The entire nation followed him. His example flamed the passion for justice all over the country. Others participated, but they were following Gandhi's light. That's the Power of One.
Rosa Parks is another example. She worked as a field hand, took care of her younger brother and cleaned classrooms for tuition in her childhood. As an adult, she worked as a seamstress, an office clerk and a domestic servant. She was not beautiful. She was not young. She was not very powerful, was she? And yet, she sparked a boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama bus system that lasted 381 days and from there, a movement towards social justice which transformed the nation; all because she refused to give her seat on a bus to a white man. She did not intend to become the symbol of a great movement when she made that choice. She was just tired of injustice and decided to draw a line. This one simple act of self-respect inflamed a passion for justice all over the country and made a better world. That's the Power of One.
Think in your own life of the times when one person made the difference for you between winning and losing, between giving up and going on to victory. I remember, after my divorce, I was facing great financial difficulties along with the challenge of raising my children alone. One day, my daughter Alexis gave me a little plaque that she bought for me at a dollar store, that said:
"Success is failure turned inside out, the silver tint of the clouds of doubt. You can never tell how close you are. It may be near when it seems so far. Stick to the fight when you're hardest hit. It's when things seem worst that you must not quit." (Bradley Tyler)
How many times did that little plaque inspire me, when I desperately wondered if I'd be able to make it. It made the difference. That's the Power of One.
None of us really know when something that we do, whether large or small, may make a crucial difference in someone else's life. A smile given to a stranger who feels like giving up, a donation of things we no longer want to someone who needs it, even taking in a little puppy abandoned by its owner, can make a lasting difference. The choice to praise instead of blame can inspire your children to greatness rather than rebellion. We just never know and so we cannot hide behind the cop-out that we are just one little person in this world. For the truth is that we are all children of God, all carrying within ourselves the seeds of greatness. Our job is to let our light shine wherever we are and let fate do the rest.
We are all brought together on the chessboard of life and we never know what connections we are destined to make as we travel on our own journey. My brother, Bob, has been an alcoholic for the last 30 years. Nothing we have ever said or done seemed to make any difference with him. He just kept drinking. Our family felt so sad, because Bob is actually a very intelligent, talented, and lovable person. He began to have alcohol-related seizures, losing his teeth when his body convulsed and hit the sidewalk and was as thin as a bone.
My younger sister, Patricia, was also an alcoholic. At a difficult time in her life she moved in with my brother for a couple of months. She was in great pain and was falling frequently. One night the two sat on the couch watching a movie and fell asleep. A few hours later, my brother woke up and found that Patty had died there beside him. This single event jolted him to a reality he had refused to accept for all of his life and he got into treatment. As I finish these lines, my sister Nancy and I will travel to Colorado to celebrate his successful completion of rehabilitation and the start of a new life. Patty's dying gift to my brother has changed his life. It is a poignant example of the Power of One.
The next time you feel like giving up in despair against tough odds because you are only one person, I hope you will remember the wise saying that to the world you may be just one person, but to some person, you may be the world. That's the Power of One. Use it wisely.