Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Making a Difference

How can I make a difference?

In millions of situations millions of people have asked that single question.

There are plenty of inspirational answers for it. A thousand single persons working together can move the world. Your single action can be the straw that breaks the camel's back, the action that inspires others. Cue violins.

Personally, I think it's actually the wrong question.

See, we don't have to ask if or how we can make a difference, because by the very nature of existing, we make a difference. How do we make a difference? Hell, we can't avoid making a difference. I'm walking down the street. Another person is walking the other way. If I smile and say hi, that will have a different effect than if I scowl and look angry. There is no "doing nothing and not making a difference" option. If I walk past him as if I don't even see him, that has an effect, too. Doing nothing, not responding to other human beings-- that makes a difference, too.

Saying, "I can't make any difference, so I'll just be a lousy person, or one who stands by and does nothing," is not an out. Being lousy, doing nothing-- those things make a difference. It can suck-- sometimes we are thrown into situations that we did not choose, but once there, we must choose what kind of difference we will make. If you stumble upon a person being beaten, a choice has been forced upon you, and whatever choice you make, it will make a difference. I get that you may wish with all your heart that you weren't there, that this choice hadn't come to you. But it did, and whatever you choose will make a difference.

So there is no question about how to make a difference. We exist in the world, so we are making a difference. Maybe not a huge difference. Maybe not a Change the Course of Western Civilization difference.

This is doubly true of us as teachers. We are put in a situation every day in which we must interact with dozens, or even hundreds, of young human beings. We can't not interact with them, because even ignoring them is a form of interaction.

So there's really only one question to ask. What kind of difference are we going to make?

Doesn't have to be huge. Sometimes I think the biggest thing we can do for some of our students is take five seconds to send the message, "I see you. I hear you."

I imagine sometimes that when the Bible says we're made in God's image, what that means is that we all have the power of creation. By our interactions with other humans, we take a step to create a world that is just and kind, or harsh and unjust and cruel. We help create a world where people are known and loved as they are, or told they cannot have love until they change.

We are all engines of change. We alter the world around us, affect the people around us. With our actions or our inactions, we send ripples out into the world.

We make a difference.

I go back to school tomorrow (no students till Tuesday, but still...). I remind myself of this every year. I am going to make a difference, and I get to decide what difference I am going to make. So do you. Have a great new year.


  1. I always love your pieces, and this is your best yet! Would make a great sermon. Thanks for writing it. You made a difference by posting this!

  2. I am so going to quote this in my next talk. :) My teacher preparation classes are going to be sick of hearing about you. I'll just make your blog their reading assignment to save me time.

  3. What a great message that is easy to see. Totally using this with my classes and fellow teachers. I hope you have a great year.

  4. Great column. I am sure you make a difference to lots of kids every year. This year will be no exception. Good luck.

  5. “I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
    "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
    -J.R.R. Tolkien

    Have a great year, Peter!