Look in the mirror and what do you see?
A work in progress? If you’re honest.
A few imperfections. Maybe a scar, a zit, some wayward hair that just won’t cooperate.
That’s right. You may not see it at first, but you’re a domino.
Many of us dream about impacting the world in a meaningful way. I’m convinced that we can, but not necessarily by assuming the role of Bill and Melinda Gates or Mackenzie Scott. Note: if you do have several billion dollars you are planning to give away, let’s talk. 😉
I want to share some lessons that you can apply. To make a tremendous impact. The example comes from a high school friend of mine. Good dude. Regular guy. And I’m 99.9% sure you’ve never heard of him.
We haven’t seen one another in forty years. But I’ve witnessed his impact. And so have you. No matter where you live in the world.
That’s the kind of impact a domino has. The kind of impact you can have.
Are you an entrepreneur? A manager? A programmer? A content creator? A student?
Yes, yes, yes, yes or yes?
All potential dominoes.
The energy created by one domino falling can knock over a domino 1.5 times larger.
Here’s an example from Stephen Morris:
Dominoes can create a chain reaction. It doesn’t take long for that chain to have a meaningful impact.
All from the influence of one domino.
Like my friend Steve.
Let Me Introduce You to the Greatest Humanitarian of Our Time
Richard Stearns wrote a book in 2009 called The Unfinished, which both challenges and encourages people to use their faith to impact the world. Chapter 12 includes a section entitled, The Greatest Humanitarian of Our Time. Here is an excerpt:
The person who has perhaps had the single greatest impact on addressing global poverty, the AIDS pandemic, and economic justice on the planet in the past twenty-five years is…wait for it… Steve Reynolds. Who? That’s right. Not Bill Gates, not Bill Clinton or George Bush. Not Mother Teresa.
Richard Stearns may be a bit biased, since Steve worked for Richard at World Vision. But the facts are compelling. They’re also encouraging for me and you.
World Vision is a Christian-based organization bringing emergency assistance to those in need while tackling the root causes of poverty around the world. They address a whole range of human needs: poverty, hunger, AIDS, human trafficking, clean water, and they go wherever they are needed. To places that most of us can’t find on a map. World Vision’s “vision” is simple: “For every child, life in all its fullness. For every heart, the will to make it so.”
Steve Reynolds was working in marketing and communications at World Vision in 1984 and he was chronicling the famine in Ethiopia. The combination of food shortages, famine, and civil war led to the deaths of more than one million people over a three-year period. Misery. Incomprehensible tragedy. And most people around the world were unaware.
Steve was trying to raise consciousness around the world by sending images reflecting the dire situation. Pictures. Videos. Media interviews.
Steve was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when he received a call from World Vision’s headquarters to ask him to host a couple that was coming to visit, Paul and Ally Hewson. Steve had been through the drill before. People wanted to visit, but after a few days of seeing tens of thousands of people living in misery and literally dying of starvation…the visitors inevitably left. In a hurry.
But Paul and Ally Hewson stayed. They didn’t just sit passively and observe. They worked. Shoulder to shoulder with World Vision’s staff in the camps feeding people. Holding children. Comforting mothers, and even writing songs about eating your vegetables! Working daily. For a month.
Most people know Paul Hewson by his stage name, Bono, the lead singer of Irish uber-group U2.
When Steve took them back to the airport after a month, he knew that Bono was a changed man. He was committed to helping any way he could. And determined to make a difference. It had become personal. The children. The mothers. The suffering.
Since that visit to Ethiopia in 1985 Bono has been on a mission to advocate for the poor, the hungry, and the marginalized. He has met with presidents, kings and queens, prime ministers, and the Pope. Spending his celebrity status like cash, he has helped many organizations raise millions of dollars in aid to the poor. He has also caused the world to take notice and look for ways to ease and eliminate suffering.
For his efforts, Bono was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year (along with Bill and Melinda Gates). The award was given, “For being shrewd about doing good, for rewiring politics and re-engineering justice, for making mercy smarter and hope strategic and then daring the rest of us to follow.”
In an interview published several years ago in Christianity Today, Bono said that he was inspired to act because of the tireless and faithful work of Steve Reynolds and others like him.
Thirty-six years after hosting Bono in Ethiopia, Steve is still working at World Vision. He is currently Director of Advocacy Mobilization for World Vision United States. In this role, Steve works with churches, organizations, and individuals to advocate for poor and marginalized people around the world. To end hunger. To end AIDS. To end poverty. To end human trafficking.
Steve is still lining up the next domino. And the one after that.
How You Can Be a Domino
Here are the lessons I’ve learned from Steve Reynolds’s example:
Honor Your Calling
When you feel God’s calling in your life, you act on it. Steve hoped that God would use his marketing and communication skills, combined with his faith, to impact the world. The where, the how, the when, were uncertain. But the openness to opportunity, to get uncomfortable along the way, has allowed Steve to impact people in need on a massive scale.
Where is God leading you? Where might you use your skills, your gifts, and your passions to impact others?
Focus on the Purpose
If given the opportunity, most people would have used the opportunity to interact with Bono to create a personal relationship. To get some great pictures. Future concert tickets. To tell the stories to friends back home. But Steve never lost sight of the purpose. He was bringing attention to a humanitarian crisis and Bono was a potential vehicle to bring visibility and solutions to address that crisis. Yes, there was a coolness factor to it. But the purpose was greater than any one person could solve. After Steve took Bono to the airport, he went back to work. To create more visibility. To provide more solutions. To bring more light to a dark world.
What is your overarching purpose, the one that gets you out of bed every day and drives your actions and interactions? How do you communicate that or role model that to others?
Make Yourself Available
There are people in the world with a desire to help, but they aren’t aware of the need or they don’t know how to get involved. Steve could have practiced a slick sales pitch and unloaded on Bono in the first hour of meeting him. But he didn’t. He worked shoulder to shoulder with Bono and his wife, Ally, for a month. Through tragedy. Tears. Sweat. Resulting in connection. Steve offered Bono a new lens through which to see and process what he was experiencing.
What is the setting where you need to make yourself available? Is it in person or online? What are your means to interact with people in that setting? Do you need to deliver value through ideas or services, or do you need to listen and let others feel understood?
Use Your Gifts
Throughout Steve’s career, he has helped convey the needs, the degree of injustice, or the inhumanity of extraordinary situations. He uses pictures and videos. He uses his verbal communication skills. Whether he is in a tent in Ethiopia or a booth in Scotland raising awareness for development aid to the G8 leaders at a worldwide summit (which he did in 2005), he is communicating and raising awareness. He has learned to leverage technology to reach a wider audience for greater impact.
What unique talents or skills can you use to leverage your calling and pursue your purpose? How can you develop your skills or utilize technology for greater impact?
Be Prepared to Grind
If Steve had unrealistic expectations, he would have run out of gas by now. Ending poverty? Ending AIDS? Stopping human trafficking? No one person can do that. Complex problems don’t get solved easily or quickly. Steve balances a sense of urgency on a daily basis, with the patience to deliver a sustained effort over the long haul. He grinds. Daily. For a greater purpose. To honor a calling. To make a difference.
What are the daily activities that you need to repeat to achieve your long-term goal? Are they consistent with your overarching purpose?
You’ll Like What You See in The Mirror
Human beings are unique, from our individual DNA composition to our personalities, behaviors, skills, and motivations.
At the same, time we have a human need to connect. We are social animals.
The fact that we are both unique and social provides us all with a great opportunity. To use our individual talents and passions to connect with one another. To influence one another. To make a difference.
Steve Reynolds uses his gifts to connect people to a cause to end suffering and injustice in the world. He is passionate about that cause and it drives him. One of the people that he connected with sings for a living. His name is Paul, but we know him as Bono. He has a massive following. And a big heart. Their connection resulted in a series of relationships, actions, and decisions that have had a huge impact on the world.
One domino fell against a larger domino, which fell against… and those dominoes are continuing to fall.
You don’t need to be addressing a worldwide crisis. You may never connect with an international celebrity to advance your cause.
But you can impact others. And then they will impact others. And on and on it goes.
Next time you look in the mirror, here’s what I want you to see:
A domino. One who can change the world.