A month or so ago I saw the movie Pirates of the Caribbean. I had read a few reviews beforehand and Johnny Depp’s performance in the lead role was uniformly praised. As I watched the movie, I found my eyes drawn to Depp every time he appeared on screen; he completely overshadowed the other characters. Part of his charisma was the way his role was written, but the majority was the dramatic flair Depp brought to his character. As I left the theater, I realized the movie would not have been as much fun without him and that I could not imagine another actor in his role.
You can probably think of other movies where the lead actors made the movie memorable. Depending on your taste, try to imagine Casablanca without Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman or any of the Jim Carrey comedies without Jim Carrey. The movies would not be the same without them.
Just as an actor can make or break a movie, our world can be changed by a single person. I spent a few days asking friends to name a person they thought changed the world in some way. The responses were varied. Some cited political leaders notorious for their violence such as Stalin and Hitler. Others immediately thought of people known for their nonviolence and charity work such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Mother Teresa. Several mentioned science and technology leaders such as Edison, Einstein, and Jonas Salk who created the polio vaccine. Bill Gates was the choice of a few both for his leadership in the computer industry and as the creator of the world’s largest charitable foundation, which is funding international vaccination programs and other health initiatives.
When you consider any field, there are always those who greatly influence it. Lives do not hinge on some areas such as music, literature, or art, but because of people like Mozart, Shakespeare, and Rembrandt our lives are richer.
Most of us can think of a person or two that influenced our lives in some way. It may be a parent, a teacher, or a friend, but in some way they guided us or gave us something to react to that helped us to become who we are today. Most of those who influence us are not famous in any way.
Steve Hartman, a CBS reporter, travels around the country producing stories about the remarkable lives of ordinary people. He throws a dart at a map of the United States, goes to the selected city and chooses a name randomly from the phonebook. He writes his story about the first person he contacts who is willing to participate. His profiles always highlight something about the person that is extraordinary, though in most cases the person did not think there was anything remarkable to be shown.
Since we see our lives unfold a day at a time and we know our faults and weaknesses, we often do not see how remarkable we are and what a difference we make in the lives of others. We may not have produced a vaccine for a major disease, but we may have donated the pint of blood that that was used to save someone’s life. A few words of encouragement to a child or teen about a talent you observe in them may eventually lead them to a career or activity that they enjoy for a lifetime. A smile or a quick conversation may improve a friend’s mood, which then affects those she sees later in the day.
When you sit back and look at your life, your family and friends, career or volunteer work, you realize how many people have passed through your life and touched you. Then take the time to consider how many lives you have touched as well, and recognize and appreciate your own contributions to our world.