Maybe it’s part of being an American, but I’m always running into the idea of making a difference. You hear it all the time. Famous celebrities, people in competition shows, students in graduation speeches, and others all say a very similar thing, “I want to make a difference in the world.”
Yes, it’s a nice thought, isn’t it?
But, it seems so “me” centered. It seems so nice and sweet, but rarely do I hear someone ask why or what or how. It’s just one phrase that is repeated over and over: “I want to make a difference.”
I’m not condemning this desire. However, I want to try to focus it and bring it into reality. No one seems to define it. What do we mean when we say this? We seem to treat it like going to a convenience store. We’ll just go buy some “difference”, pop it in the microwave, and feel better “making a difference”. Or, do we simply want to make a difference so others will notice that we do?
This always puzzled me until I heard a TED video talking about everyday leadership. The man doing the very short talk was making the point that leadership is not something beyond our reach, instead it is something we can do everyday and not really realize it. It is often the little things we do that make the biggest difference. Let me point to a recent example in my own life that I probably take for granted:
There’s a dear elderly man whom I call Grandpa Dalton who lives at my apartment complex. He’s stops by a lot to make sure I’m still alive or give me flowers and share the latest news around the complex. The other day I was really upset and frustrated about a school related event. I was so upset that Grandpa Dalton was concerned when he saw me getting out of my car with an obviously unhappy face.
I was half-asleep a couple of hours later sitting on my couch trying to read a book for class when I heard the familiar sound of a walker and the steady knock on my door that is synonymous with Grandpa Dalton. I opened the door and there he was with a grin on his face. Then, he looked concerned and asked if I was okay and if there was anything he could do. He saw the stressed, tired look on my face and wanted to know what was wrong. I told him it was something with school but not to worry about it. He touched my face and told me that if there was anything he could do to make it better to let him know because he wanted to help. He then proceeded in his very Dalton-ish manner to tell me all the latest “gossip” of who was doing what around the apartment complex. I guess maybe it wasn’t gossip, it was more just telling me the latest news as only he can tell it. Before he left, he gave me a hug and told me that he hoped things were okay and repeated his offer to help if he could. It meant a lot to me that he cared so much. I think the Lord used him to bring some light into my rather dark day.
That’s the thing about “making a difference”. You don’t always know you’re doing it and it in its purest form, it is completely selfless. A teacher may work many, many years helping kids but never know what an impact he or she made on someone’s life. Or, it may be as simple as an elderly man stopping by to simply say hi to an exhausted grad student.
We shouldn’t make this desire to “make a difference” seem so lofty that we can’t reach it and neither should we degrade it by making it self-centered. You can make a difference everyday by simply being who you are and helping where you can whether or not someone notices you or what you do.