25 years ago, a man with no name and no face stood. Even though his identity may forever be lost, he won the greatest of victories. He moved the tanks, and the world, without lifting a finger.
The poetry in his actions are not undone by the sacrifices that occurred that day, June 5, 1989, in Tiananmen Square. Over one million people spoke out against the Chinese government. Thousands were killed for it. In light of what we know happened to his cohorts, in recognition that the massive size of the tank could crush him in an instant, the man with the grocery bags in each hand and lack of fear in his heart did not stand a chance.
And yet, stand he did.
We know not what happened to that man. We know not his name, or if he had a family, or if he had next of kin, or what his state of mind was. The truth is, it is more likely than not that the small man who stood against the monstrous machines would never learn of how his bold act of defiance would change the world. It was last reported he was taken away by authorities shortly after he took his stand. Were he breathing, his final breaths would go unnoticed to all.
The iconography of a single man looking at overwhelming odds and facing them is without question. It is in his actions, his sudden, selfless, sacrificial moments, that we all can learn an important lesson. Changing the world does not mean being celebrated by it. Those who seek to change the world often do it without our best interests at heart. It is in the smallest of gestures that we can potentially create the greatest of impacts, even if we remain unaware of it. Sometimes all it takes is one brave soul willing to be forgotten, with no name to attach to his tombstone, to create great change and awareness in others.
Our words towards others, however brief, can inspire or destroy. Our actions may be witnessed by a distant stranger, who will take the advice of your unspoken commands to make a difference in his own life. One comment can help remove barriers. One dream can move a nation.
At the office, we can help a troubled coworker who is having difficulty on a project find the missing pieces. It may be a simple suggestion that acts as a guide that presents new information to them. We can allow others to swim. A friend may be going through a rough patch at home. A hand on a shoulder, a story that relates to their problems, or just an ear to provide counsel might be the difference between that friend walking through the door with open arms or clenched fist. Sometimes it just takes our presence to provide perseverance that wasn’t available to them before.
It is in those moments that we must realize our ability to change the world one dream at a time. We should never be afraid to create, to envision, to hope, to inspire. Let’s deliver to others the visions and thoughts that steered our decisions, our desires, and our passions in life.
If you can help one person reveal the best within themselves, you have done more than enough. You have changed the course of that person’s life. You have helped them look at their life in a different light. Their mirror has changed. You inspired someone to dream a dream so true and honest that it sticks with them in every waking moment.
James Hooks has been a leadership and talent development consultant, with experience designing, developing, and implementing learning projects and programs for a diverse portfolio of organizations. His doctoral research was on the impact that diverse leaders of technology companies have on innovation and meaning making. He holds a masters degree in organizational leadership, MBA from Stanford University, and undergraduate studies in business and sociology at Chapman University and Brandman University, respectively. He also serves as Vice Chair of Urban City Fresh, a 501(c)3 nonprofit focused on food education, and is a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
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