“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the life of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples, crossing each other from a million different centers of energy, build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” –Sen. Robert F. Kennedy
I want to tell you about four people I know who are true heroes.
The first three are my good friends Marcus, Joel and Anna, who last week accomplished something that many thought to be impossible. Marcus and Joel sailed into Honolulu 87 days and 2,600 miles after leaving Long Beach, Calif., back in late May on board a raft made of 15,000 plastic bottles, a Cessna plane fuselage, and a host of various and sundry other disposed of items.
While what Marcus and Joel have done, along with their land-based counterpart Anna–without whom they would not have accomplished this incredible feat–is truly amazing and inspiring, that is not what makes them heroes in my eyes. Many would say that they are heroes simply because they put themselves in harm’s way. Many would say that they are heroes simply because they took on a Herculean task for the greater good, and accomplished it tenfold, having their message heard around the world. Many would say that they are heroes because they persevered through what at times must have been the intense emotions that accompany any undertaking such as this. And they would be right.
But what truly sets Marcus, Joel and Anna apart, what makes them heroes in my eyes, is that they did something. Plain and simple, they saw a problem and rather than sit idly by, they stood up and said, “How can I make this better?”
Marcus, Joel and Anna threw a huge rock in the pond and created mighty ripples that are changing the world for the better. They are heroes.
The fourth person I want to talk about today is my Uncle Bob.
Uncle Bob passed away last week. He had been sick for quite some time. I was not able to attend the funeral as it was across the country, but my mom e-mailed me shortly after the ceremony and told me about all the people from the community who came to bid Bob farewell.
Bob owned a gas station back when he was younger and pretty much ran it most of his life. He wasn’t a wealthy man, yet my mom told me how time and again, people kept coming up and telling her how, when they didn’t have enough money, Bob would give them free gas so that they could get to work or get their kids to school. They told her about how Bob would come with his plow and clear out their driveways when the huge snowstorms hit, even if they didn’t have the money to hire him to do so. They talked of his service in the Korean War, of his gentle smile and of his amazing harmonica playing abilities.
Of course, we’ll probably never know how many people Uncle Bob actually helped out in this way because he wasn’t the kind of guy to make a lot of noise about such things. To him, that’s just what people do. You see a problem and you take care of it. He did something.
Uncle Bob threw a small rock into a small pond, time and again, and created mighty ripples that changed his community for the better. He is a hero.
While doing something huge on an international stage can be effective, doing something locally on no stage at all is just as important. It’s not the size of the accomplishment, it’s the act itself. That is what truly makes the difference.
How many acts of injustice, environmental, legal, social or otherwise, do we all see every day? How many of us actually get up and do something about them? How many of us stand up and scream at the top of our lungs, through our actions, or even in some case with our actual voices, “Enough, I will not sit idly by and watch while this continues to happen. I’m taking a stand, and while I may not have the solution, I will not be part of the problem. I’m going to do something and do it now.”
You see it doesn’t take a raft or a snow plow or any one specific ability to make things better, it just takes the desire for change, and the willingness to sacrifice a little bit of yourself for the greater good. Put the needs of others ahead of yourself, look around and open up your eyes, seek out injustices and then work towards fixing them. Scream out loud and don’t take no for an answer.
Pick up that rock and chuck it in the pond.
Be a hero.
Dave Chameides is an environmental educator and freelance filmmaker. He writes alternative fuel articles for Edmunds.com and maintains the blogs 365 Days of Trash and Achieving Sustainability. While he is presently saving all of his trash for a year to better understand his environmental impact, his main focus is sustainability through education and believes that with knowledge all things are possible.