Thursday, October 20, 2011

Be the Change

Be the change you want to see in the world. –Gandhi

I saw the most amazing thing yesterday. I was trying to cross a very busy four lane street. Traffic was zipping by very fast. Although I was standing at a pedestrian crosswalk, there were no lights and the signs were partly obscured by trees. Cars and trucks flashed by without even slowing down.

For those of you who do not live in pedestrian friendly places, the law here says that traffic must stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. And for the most part, drivers here are very courteous and careful about yielding to pedestrians. However, the street I was trying to cross has few pedestrians, and it is in a business/light industrial area with long stretches of no traffic lights and lots of big trucks in a hurry. It looked like I was in for a long wait.

Then, lo and behold, a small blue car in the lane closest to me, slowed down and stopped. A few cars in the next lane sped by, but then a driver saw the blue car and stopped, too. I waved a thank you and stepped into the street, but cars and trucks going the opposite direction were still streaming by. I paused and started to step back on the sidewalk. Then a driver of a huge semi barreling along in the other direction hit the brakes. I watched in awe as the monstrous truck shuddered to a loud stop inches into the crosswalk. I waved nervously and felt very tiny as I stepped in front of its menacing grill. I peered around the far side of the truck to be sure that the cars in the furthest lane had stopped, too. They had. I scampered to the sidewalk and breathed a sigh of relief as I heard the traffic resume behind me.

All this because the driver of a small blue car saw what was happening and did the right thing. One driver on a street with hundreds of drivers zooming by in disregard of a pedestrian at a crosswalk, stopped. And waited quietly...until other drivers saw and followed his good example. Even the driver of the enormous semi, a truck on the move with a mission and momentum, a truck very difficult to stop, stopped. And waited for a single pedestrian to cross the street.

I thought about this all afternoon. Isn’t that exactly what Gandhi was talking about? One person, any one of us, by doing the right thing, even when no one else is, can make a difference.

Bishop Desmond Tutu told the story of a woman who wrote him a letter during the dark days before apartheid ended in South Africa. She said she wished she could do more to help, but all she could do was pray. She knew her little prayer didn’t mean much, but she just wanted him to know of her support. He wrote her back, saying who knows, maybe her prayer would be the very one that ended apartheid.

Maybe it was.


  1. It just may be, we can never know. If we don't go and try something, then before we start we already know we've lost. I had a different kind of brush with traffic yesterday as well. While I was stopped in my car at a traffic light the lady in a SUV apparently didn't realize we were all stopped until she bumped into my car. It wasn't very hard, but a bump non the less. When the light changed I went ahead to a safe spot to pull off the road and check my bumper. She followed and once she got out I could see how frightened she appeared, a rather older woman with an even older hubby sitting in the car. I gave her a big smile and told all was good it was just a light touch....we exchanged more smiles and off we went....isn't it amazing how a brief moment in traffic or anywhere we exchange with people can be a win win celebration!

  2. Hi have opened this post with one of my favorite quotes. Each one of us affects the other.......your post so aptly described this fact.



  3. That definitely was a MOMENT in time.. to think about.
    I can understand this, the briefest of smiles between strangers makes my day. It rarely happens but when it does I remember it throughout the day.

  4. Galen: You are reading and doing all the right things - for one, that is, who seeks peace. If you believe it, and no longer question it, you have achieved it.

  5. Karen--Thank you for sharing your lovely traffic story. You were so gracious and compassionate. This must be the week of traffic stories! Thanks for your comment.

    Jo--It is one of my favorite quotes, too. Thanks for your comment.

    Helen--So true, as you said, that a brief smile between strangers and lift up everyone's spirit. Thank you for commenting.

    JJ--Does that work for everything?! Just kidding. I understand what you are saying. Being the change means living it. Think of all the individual people who simply lived what they believed and did indeed change the world. Thanks for commenting.

  6. What a great experience you had seeing the kindness of the driver in the blue car affecting others in a positive way.

    We can all make a difference by doing small and simple acts of kindness.

  7. One person doing the right thing truly does have an impact on the world. Thank you for sharing the story about the woman praying...that touched my heart.

  8. Hi Galen,

    Wow, I cannot imagine cars stopping like that here in Singapore haha! In fact it is a little bit of a stretch for me to digest what you said about the cars stopping one after another on a busy 4 lane street. I guess this is largely how my experiences have conditioned me not to expect such things.

    But it is true, we should be the change we want to see and strive to do the right thing even if no one else does it. If no one made the effort, nothing would change in this world. The right thing is not always the easy thing to do, but it is something that we should all make an effor to do because it will make a difference no matter how small it is. And at the end of the day, it is making a difference, no matter how big or small, that matters.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  9. Ellen Marie--I know. It was so visual because the blue car was so small and all the other vehicles that stopped were so big, especially the semi! Thanks for your comment.

    Alida--I have always loved that story. It is a message about prayer, but also about being gracious and kind in our response to others. Thanks for your comment.

    Irving--I hear you! I have never been in Singapore, but I have taken my life in my hands in other Asian cities when I crossed the street. My strategy in Bangkok was to just put myself in the middle of a crowd of people, cross when they crossed, and hope for the best! Once in China, as my daughter and I prepared to cross a busy street (using my Bangkok strategy), she looked up and said, "If we don't make it, it was nice having you for a mom." We still laugh about that! Thank for commenting.

  10. We're all interconnected, no question.

  11. It's important to know we can all do something. What we do matters. "Even the smallest pebble casts ripples across the pond watering the flower on the other side"

    Loved your story Galen. It brought back memories for me.

    I'm so glad the traffic stopped for you. In some places it doesn't. Like in China last week... where that little 2 year old girl was run over [not once but twice] and nobody stopped to help her. It seems inconceivable doesn't it? But the CCTV camera does not lie.

    My heart aches not only for the profound tragedy of her loss... but also for the loss of the most basic human qualities of decency humanity compassion and empathy.

    What have we become?

  12. Hi Galen, you're so right. Change has to start with us. The problem often is that we want to change others without changing ourselves. The interesting thing here is that the little blue car stopped, but didn't try to stop any of the other cars. He just did what he was supposed to do and the rest fell into line.

    I think that's what Ghandi was talking about when he uttered that quote.


  13. My sister has a sign on her refrigerator that says "Just Do The Right Thing". She's had it there for years. It reminds me of your story. Glad the little blue car did the right thing...and because of that others did too...sooner or later.

  14. Galen!!!!!!!!! Did you know how much I love it when you put something as simple as a car stopping for you into an amazing lesson on perspective and change! This is why I love your blog so much!

  15. A shiver ran up my spine as I read your last paragraph...
    "She said she wished she could do more to help, all she could do was pray"
    I believe that we would see mighty and wondrous things happen in this world if we would all humble ourselves in this manner and get down on our knees in prayer.

  16. Anonymous--So true. Thanks for commenting.

    Jean--I had not heard about that little girl. That is so sad. I mentioned in my response to Irving above my own scary street crossings in China and Bangkok. Thanks for your comment.

    Jimmy--That's exactly what I thought. The blue car just stopped and sat there. I agree that that is what makes the story so meaningful. The blue car wasn't honking at others; it was just quietly doing the right thing. And still it managed to stop four lanes of heavy traffic. I'm glad you stopped by and pointed out the most important part. Thanks.

    Healthier--Great sign. So simple. Thanks for commenting.

    Average Girl!!! Do you know how much I love it when you leave me such an enthusiastic comment?! You made me laugh out loud with delight. Thank you!

    Denise--Marianne Williamson tells a great story of getting knocked to her knees over and over again until she finally thought maybe she should stay there! What would happen if prayer was our first resort instead of our last resort? Thanks for your comment.

  17. Amen, this is one of my favorite quotes. It's amazing how much difference one person can make, such as the driver of the blue car. I've heard various speakers talk about change, they inspired me to no end, they were displaying the change I was striving for and now today I too can be a role model for those who still struggle. One day, one person, one event can make all the difference in the world.

    Here's a link to a song that touches my spirit and soul. I thought I'd share this with you because when I need a pick me up, a reason to keep pushing forward, this song does it for me.

    I hope you have a fantastic weekend and encounter many more blue car drivers! :-)

  18. Lovely story telling and I am so thankful that they stopped for you.

    Sometimes if feels very lonely to model the change you want to see - my book group thought I was foolish to not shop in stores that sell polluting things at low cost and that I was foolish in saying that I already pay for their employees health insurance even said a "a fool and their money are soon parted."

    After 20 years we are not the only people on the block with solar panels and that is comforting....

    I hope others will clean out the street gutters and not feel they need 4-5 cars per person, but that is not happening very fast...

    Ah me! maybe we are all just a simple prayer?

  19. Thank you for sharing this beautiful sentiment. Change does indeed start with one small act of kindness. Which inevitably leads to another, and another, and...

    You've inspired me to ask myself if I'm doing enough to start the chain of goodness. Indeed, we all need to be asking ourselves similar questions.

  20. The sad thing is there are way too many hit and runs with Pedestrians. We all need to be careful and make sure it is safe to cross and also stop of others to walk across the streets. I loved the story of how just one can make a difference. I really believe that with all my heart.
    I always feel so enlightened when I read your posts. This was a great read. Thanks for your comments on mine; you are awesome.
    Blessing to you and keep on enjoying your journey!

  21. darlin--Thank you for the song link. That's wonderful. And thanks for taking time from your very busy schedule to stop by. I am always glad to see you!

    Patricia--Maybe we all are indeed! Maybe we are all drivers of small blue cars, just quietly modeling thougthful choices. Thanks for your comment.

    Carmi--Your comment has inspired me to ask myself that question, too! Nice to see you here. Thanks for your comment.

    LeAnn--You are awesome, too! Thanks for the kind words and for leaving a comment.

  22. Doing the right thing can be contagious, huh?

  23. Linda--I hope so! Thanks for commenting.

  24. Lovely story, and it's nice of you to share your lucidity about it. I agree with you. Our lives contain millions of moments of small choices. Each one we make has effects, like the pebble dropped into water, that ripple outward beyond our knowing. Every action we take in a spirit of generosity and compassion makes it more likely the reactions will return the same sort of energy.

  25. This is a very interesting post you wrote there Galen Pearl. When I saw Gandhi's quote I wanted to read, as it is one of my favourite but did not get a chance till now.
    And I am thankful I get a chance to read it because I have always been looking for examples on this without finding a good one and then you did it, you show us with a simple example we can all be actors of this change. Thank you very much.

  26. Mikey--The image of the pebble in the water is a good one. Amazing to think that everything we do has ramifications far beyond what we can imagine. Thanks for commenting.

    Marie--I'm glad I could furnish an example. Thanks for commenting.


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