Don’t underestimate what one person can do

Last year I memorized and meditated on these three statements. Together, they are finding purchase in my mind and making a difference in my life.

  • “One person can make a difference and everyone should try.” John F. Kennedy
  • “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” Edward Hale
  • “Do not hesitate to do for one what you might need to do for all, or else you won’t do anything.”

Don’t underestimate the impact that one person can have.

The following is my favorite story of all time.

The African bishop, Desmond Tutu, was once asked why he became an Anglican priest. He replied that in the days of apartheid, when a black person and a white person met while walking on a footpath, the black person was expected to step into the gutter to allow the white person to pass and then nod his head as a gesture of respect.

“One day,” Tutu said, “when I was just a little boy, my mother and I were walking down the street when a tall, white man, dressed in a black suit, came toward us. Before my mother and I could step off the sidewalk, as was expected of us, this man stepped off the sidewalk and, as my mother and I passed, tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to her! I was more than surprised at what had happened, and I asked my mother, ‘Why did that white man do that?’ My mother explained, ‘He’s an Anglican priest. He’s a man of God, that’s why he did it.’ When she told me that he was an Anglican priest, I decided there and then that I wanted to be an Anglican priest too. And what is more, I wanted to be a man of God.”

Desmond Tutu not only became a priest, he influenced his entire nation. He, along with Nelson Mandela, led the successful fight against apartheid which changed the course of South Africa.

The priest that deeply impacted young Tutu’s life probably never knew “the rest of the story”; but through one simple act of kindness he deeply impacted one life which would deeply impact an entire nation.

There are 7 billion people on planet earth, but don’t let that large number deter you from doing what you can, individually, to make an impact.

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