Mr. Rodgers was not just a big part of my early childhood entertainment schedule, he was also a very wise man. Of tragedies he said:
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
The last week has brought us unspeakable tragedy. It’s also brought us unexpected heroes and helpers.
We can look at the world right now and feel helpless and hopeless. Or we can find inspiration in some incredible teenagers who are courageously choosing to be changemakers. Not only are they already beginning to create change nationally, they can also teach us a lot about what it means to be a changemaker.
Here are three things we can all learn from the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School about leadership and creating positive change.
1. It’s not about titles, it’s about acts of leadership
Who are you more inspired by right now: politicians with fancy titles like Senator, Speaker and President, or 13-18 year old student leaders? People with titles or positions of power no longer have a monopoly on the ability to inspire, to galvanize, to lead. These kids were just “ordinary” high school students on February 13. But starting on February 14 they started courageously pursuing small, but collectively meaningful acts of leadership. They didn’t wait for someone to anoint them leaders; they didn’t ask for permission to lead. They just did.
Leadership is not a title. It’s the sum of small, conscious acts of service.
These students didn’t seek out a title. They didn’t seek out authorization from adults. They just started doing act of leadership after act of leadership. And these acts of leadership have inspired followers 10, 20, 50, even 80 years older than they are.
Through their acts of leadership, these students are showing us what leadership really is.
2. Action is better than perfection
I’ve heard many critics griping about the burgeoning movement, despite the incredible work these students are doing: they don’t understand the complexities of policymaking, they don’t have a clear theory of change, or worse yet, they are too naive and immature.
It’s not the critic who counts, but the changemaker who rolls up her sleeves and decides to make the world better. These students didn’t wait until a month after the tragedy to act. They were acting before they had even attended their friends’ funerals. Their movement isn’t perfect. But their courage is. And they will figure out how to affect even more change as they go.
3. Each and every one of us can be a changemaker
How inspiring is it that the individuals giving me the most hope for the future of gun policy in the US have resumes that likely include little more than an internship and some dog sitting. There is literally no prerequisite to becoming changemaker. It takes courage, resilience, optimism, and hard work. But these traits are qualities every single one of us already have and practice to some extent every day. If a 16 year old with the pressure of the death of friends and a national spotlight can find the courage to be a changemaker, there’s no reason we all can’t also be changemakers.
These changemakers clearly found their purpose through tragedy, but tragedy is not a requisite for becoming a changemaker. Changemakers believe that we can make the world a little bit better in our own way. And with a bit of courage and a bit of inspiration from these incredible young changemakers, I’m confident all of us can make a positive difference.
Just like the incredible students at Douglas high, each of us can be a changemaker.