Decisions are made, so it is said, by those who show up.
There are just a couple of weeks left before the next General Election in the UK. It’s one of the closest-fought in decades, and as far as I’m aware, no-one expects an outright win by any one party. Another coalition seems inevitable.
The decision about who will lead us will be made by those who show up, and also, as this cartoon illustrates, by those who don’t.
Many of those who do show up and vote will back one of the losing parties, and though they will thus have influenced the margin by which the winners were victorious, few will feel they have effectively ‘made the decision’.
What if we change the narrative, though? What if we start thinking less about making decisions and more about making a difference?
A difference is made by those who show up.
I’ve recently started doing some work with Cinnamon Network. Cinnamon are seeking to help local churches who have identified a need in their area to connect with and begin to run social action projects which have already been established and shown to meet the need. Part of my role has involved interviewing the volunteers coordinating these projects in different churches around the UK. They tell me time and time again what a difference a food parcel, a basket of essentials for a newborn baby, or an hour spent visiting an isolated older person is making in individual lives and in communities around the country.
I like to ask what inspired or motivated them to start up the project they’re working on, and it’s always where their passions, experience and availability coincide with a need they see in their area.
One retired midwife told me that she’d been listening to the radio as she did her Christmas baking and heard an interview about the ‘Baby Basics‘ project. She felt God say to her, “You could do that, Mary.” So she did.
A former police chief missed the interaction she had with people in the community, so she started a visiting scheme for the elderly and housebound.
Skills + availability + passion = results.
Or take Brandon Stanton, for example.
In 2010, having lost big money – and his job – on the New York Stock Exchange, Brandon decided to change tack and start taking photographs instead.
He wanted to capture the life and diversity of New York City by photographing 10,000 of its inhabitants. He posted these photos on a blog and a Facebook page, and pretty soon amassed quite a following.
Then one day, Brandon met Vidal.
Vidal answered one of Brandon’s standard questions: who has influenced you most in your life?
His answer was his school principal, Ms Lopez.
Vidal lives in a deprived area of Brooklyn. The kids there don’t have much hope. It’s pretty much expected that they will drop out of school and get caught in a life of worklessness and possibly crime. But Ms Lopez and her staff at Mott Hall Bridges Academy have decided that is not acceptable. They were going to show up, and do something about it.
The story captured Brandon’s imagination. Over the next couple of weeks, he started visiting the school to meet more of the teachers and the students and find out more.
What he discovered was dozens of people showing up day after depressing day, working and working and working, doing everything they could to give these kids hope, a sense of self-worth, an optimism about what the future could hold for them.
Like this guy:
How is he making a difference? By shaking hands.
I grew up down the block, but I used to get bussed to school in a white area. There were always a lot of people in that neighborhood who would make us feel like we didn’t belong. They would try to send a message that blacks aren’t allowed. But the principal of the school was a Jewish man named Irving Rahinsky. And every morning, when we got off the bus, Mr. Rahinksy would be standing there at the curb, waiting for us. He would shake each one of our hands as we stepped off the bus, and he made us feel like we belonged. So now that I’m a teacher, I come in early every single morning, so that I can stand right here and make sure my students get a hug and a handshake when they arrive.
The more he learned, the more Brandon wanted to help this school, and so did his HONY followers. He met with some of the teachers and came up with an idea: they would raise money to send each incoming 6th Grade class on a trip to Harvard.
They estimated it would cost about $30,000 per trip, so decided to try to raise $100,000 – plenty for three trips.
Within four days, 25,000 people had donated, raising over $700,000.
By the time the fundraiser closed, on 10th February, they had raised nearly one and a half million dollars – $1,417,834!
All funds over $700,000 were put into a scholarship fund for graduates of Mott Hall Bridges Academy. The first recipient will be Vidal.
The sky’s the limit
The reason for sending the students on a field trip to Harvard was simple – Ms Lopez and her staff try to instil into these kids that there is nowhere they don’t belong, that just because they live in poor-quality social housing in a deprived area, that doesn’t have to shape their future. The sky is the limit.
On Thursday, 5th February, that was proved true beyond anyone’s imaginings. The story had made its way to the attention of President Obama, and Vidal, Ms Lopez and Brandon found themselves sitting in the most exclusive room in the country, talking to perhaps the most powerful man in the world.
Yep, that’s Vidal in the picture above, sitting behind the President’s desk in the Oval Office.
How was this all possible? Because one man used his skills, his passion and his availability and showed up, day after day, until one little photograph changed the world for these students, these teachers, and who knows how many others.
A difference is made by those who show up.
So yes, whoever you are, you should vote in two weeks’ time, or whenever the next election is in your area.
But I think you should do more than that.
If you’re passionate about politics, get involved locally or nationally – join a boring committee, become a school governor, meet your MP and talk to him or her about how you can help.
If you’re passionate about social justice, volunteer at a Foodbank or homeless shelter, donate to charities working to combat human trafficking, buy your clothes from companies who know that those who made them are treated fairly.
But those aren’t the only ways to make a difference – don’t waste your time and energy trying to be passionate about something that just doesn’t grab you.
If you’re a teacher, teach.
If you’re a writer, write.
If you’re in business, work.
If you’re great at listening, listen. If you love hospitality make tea, bake cakes, and invite people in.
If all you can do is arrive early and shake hands, do that.
Bottom line: whatever is in you to do, do it. Show up.