Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Power of One Person

If there is one thing you should know about me it is that I have an incredibly strong sense of justice. And though I realize the world is a complicated place, mired in shades of grey, I think it is important to contribute to that world in a positive way and take every chance to make it better.

I saw many difficult things in the Peace Corps. Not on the news or written in articles, but in front of me every day. As a 'cultural agent' I was forced to combat them creatively because my acceptance in the community was delicate. I was an outsider, a woman and I was often told that I simply didn't understand. I didn't understand that domestic violence was expected as an inevitability of marriage, that sexism was an element of a 'properly functioning' society, or that rape was a simple truth of life.

Of course, I could not accept or ignore these things so I fought them carefully. There was purpose in my work, an ability to do something in the world because my position invited change. But it didn't stop there.

I came back and I continued to see the same social wrongs - things international campaigns are started for, but seem to be tacitly ignored at home. America avoided eye contact, but I had become sensitive. I possessed a greater awareness of our own shortcomings and it became terribly frustrating to have my focus and my passions unmet.

With the death of someone like Nelson Mandela, and with so many people acknowledging his influence on the world, I hope he will serve as continued inspiration. I hope he will not be someone spoken of as an anomaly, There are still great injustices in the world and many of them occur right here in America. Sometimes to simply acknowledge them, to look them in the eye and recognize them as they are is enough to start social change and demand a better future.

Of the most valuable lessons I learned in the Peace Corps, I learned the power of one. One person. And that person is you. Because it's not always in someone else's hands to lead. You can inspire, too. And by changing one person, affecting one life, you can create an echo that changes many. You must simply use that beautiful voice and put purpose to that brilliant, human mind.

When we are faced with the death of those who represent the best in us it often shocks us into remembering all of the things we wish we could be. Mandela's death reminded me that it is a possibility for all of us - one that doesn't necessarily involve joining the Peace Corps or becoming an internationally recognized president. As I struggle to find my place again, to combine the two paths of my life, I hope that Nelson Mandela and perhaps (very humbly) I can remind you that we all have this potential. We all carry this light. To use it is a choice, not a fate.

Set light to the night.