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Published: Sunday March 18, 2012 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday May 25, 2013 MYT 5:55:06 PM

Making a difference in life, one person at a time

AT a quiet park in Bangsar, an elderly man was taking his evening walk. It's a common enough scene, except that he was also picking up rubbish along the way.

My friend went up to him and asked: “Why are you doing this?”

“It's good exercise and I am doing something useful. No point just complaining about the lack of civic consciousness. I will just do my part to keep this park clean.”

I was once stuck in a traffic gridlock because the traffic lights were out and it was raining.

There was chaos and plenty of honking and everyone was getting frayed nerves.

Then, a man parked his car some distance away, walked over to the junction and started to direct traffic.

He was drenched but he skilfully unsnarled the jam and got the vehicles moving.

Some of us may be familiar with the story of a little boy who was walking along a beach where thousands of starfish had been washed ashore. He picked them up one by one and threw them back to the sea.

A man approached the boy and asked: “What are you doing?”

The boy said: “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them back, they'll die.”

The man said: “Son, don't you realise there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can't make a difference!”

The boy listened politely, then bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf.

Smiling at the man, he said: “I made a difference for that one.”

Some of us may be cynical about these inspirational stories but having seen many such real-life situations myself, I can say confidently that though they may be in the minority, there are people who care. And because they care, they act.

Sociologist Robert Bellah said: “We should not underestimate the significance of the small group of people who have a new vision of a just and gentle world. The quality of a culture may be changed when 2% of its people have a new vision.”

This remark is usually taken in the context of the struggle against corruption and social injustices.

We often feel defeated even before we start because the problems seem so big and insurmountable.

But history is full of examples of how individuals have made the difference.

One woman, for instance, whose work among the “poorest of the poor” grew to thousands of missionaries serving the needy around the world, had a very simple approach.

Mother Teresa always focused on individuals. She said: “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest to you.”

If global or national issues seem too much for us to tackle, perhaps we need to adjust our focus a little closer to home.

Does a colleague need your support? Do you know a neighbour who is down and out?

Go ahead and pick up that piece of litter or the starfish, whichever the case may be for you.

We can each make a difference, one life at a time.

> Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin likes this quote by Albert Einstein: “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”

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