(Note: While I am in Uganda, the Chanhassen Villager is running some of my favorite travel-related columns. This column was originally published on August 23, 2007.
I’ve been accused of being an idealist. Of looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Of being delusionally optimistic. And I have to admit, I’m guilty as charged.
But seeing and celebrating the good that’s in people doesn’t mean I won’t acknowledge that there’s anything bad. Looking at the big picture doesn’t mean I don’t examine the little details. And believing that one person really can make a difference in the world doesn’t mean I can’t comprehend how much work is still involved.
It simply means I won’t allow myself to be distracted from the fact that any of us—all of us—can, literally, change the world. I know beyond a doubt that one person with strong beliefs and with passion and conviction can influence a small group of people, which can grow into a larger one with a reach that eventually stretches across the globe. I’ve seen it happen many times.
And I saw it again last weekend.
I was in Phoenix, attending my first Toastmasters International Convention. I’ve been to District and Regional Conferences before, but nothing like this. About 2,000 people were there, from countries and cultures around the world. With different customs, backgrounds, and native tongues, but with a common language that everyone in Toastmasters understands, which is why lively conversations and animated discussions could be heard throughout the convention—at business meetings, before and after the educational sessions, and around the dinner tables.
Over the course of a few days I talked with people from Singapore, Nigeria, Ireland and Qatar about the same issues, goals and challenges that I have. I applauded enthusiastically as awards were presented to people from Mexico, Malaysia, Australia and South Africa, because I know precisely what it took to earn those awards. I got both choked up and cheered up as I listened to heartfelt and heartbreaking stories and lessons learned by the speakers and presenters throughout the convention, from the blind Navajo storyteller who taught us the Navajo word for “welcome” (it’s pronounced “yah-tay”) during the orientation for Convention “First Timers,” to the contestants in the World Championship of Public Speaking, including the winner of the competition, who grew up in India and who challenged us all to look inside ourselves to find the answers to our most difficult questions.
I was awed and inspired by powerful and inspiring words from a group of people that included our Outgoing, Incoming, and Immediate Past International Presidents. Their messages were clear and their voices were strong, although their accents originated in far away, exotic lands like Sri Lanka. The Philippines. Canada.
What I found most encouraging and uplifting, however, were words that came from one of the newly elected International Directors, who is from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. He spoke about coming together to create a world of understanding. His message and his belief is that although we all come from different cultures, we don’t have to eliminate our differences—we have to understand them and learn how to benefit from them in positive ways. He was speaking from the heart, and he certainly touched mine.
So don’t tell me I’m too idealistic, or I should take off my rose-colored glasses, or that I’m delusional for believing that something like “peace on earth” is really possible. It’s possible if enough people believe in it and work for it. If enough of us are willing to open our eyes and ears to what needs to be done, and work together to accomplish it.
I met a lot of people last weekend who are already doing it. In small and big ways, with tiny steps and giant leaps, with powerful words and soft-spoken voices.
And I’m proud to join them.
© Betty Liedtke, 2011