Making a Difference in the World
Most people want to feel that they have some positive impact on the lives of others. To make a difference in the world, however — isn’t that beyond the reach of anyone? Is our planet so small that any single influence can have much impact on it?
Maybe so. Yet influences have a way of spreading like ripples on a pond. If an idea can change not only people’s minds, but also inspire them sufficiently to change the very way they live, it will have that ripple effect. Alexander the Great didn’t do it, but Buddha did. The Renaissance didn’t do it, but Jesus did. Yes, it can be done!
The change must come from within ourselves. And it must come from the heights of that inner being. It cannot come from emotion, or opinion, nor even from sincerely held belief.
How many public figures declaim on behalf of good causes! Yet how many of them significantly change anything? Think of the fads that are embraced by millions, that fade into nonexistence like waves on the ocean that rise, then fade back tracelessly into the vast body of water from which they rose.
To make a significant difference, we must realize first that it isn’t we, individually, who can make the difference. Truth is what always wins in the end.
There is the story of Billy Sunday, the evangelist, when he died. He appeared before the gates of heaven, but St. Peter told him he couldn’t come in since the evangelist’s name was not recorded in the book of good deeds. “But what about all those people I converted,” expostulated Billy Sunday, “and sent to heaven?” “You may have sent them,” St. Peter replied, “but none have ever arrived!”
Again, there is the story of Tansen, chief musician in the court of the great Indian emperor, Akbar. The emperor often exclaimed to Tansen, “No one anywhere sings as well as you do!” Tansen replied, “Your majesty, there is one far greater than I: my own teacher.” For a long time, Akbar dismissed this answer, thinking it merely an expression of humility. After some time, however, he asked Tansen to let him hear his teacher sing. “He would never agree to come to your court, your majesty,” Tansen replied. “To hear him, I must take you to him. Nor will he sing,” he continued, “if he recognizes you as the emperor. You must go disguised as a common man.”
The emperor agreed to go in disguise with his musician. The teacher, however, though glad to see his pupil again, refused to sing for his supposed friend. Finally, Tansen tricked him by singing a melody he’d learned in his student days, deliberately making a mistake in what he’d learned. At this point, what could the teacher do but correct his pupil? He sang the melody as it should have been sung.
The emperor was astounded. When they left, he exclaimed, “You were right! I never imagined a human being could sing with such a heavenly voice. How is it that you, whose singing seems humanly perfect, haven’t the power to perform with such sublimity?”
“Your Majesty,” replied Tansen, “the difference is simply this: I sing to please you, but my teacher sings only to please God.”
To make a real difference in the world, then, we should serve no one but truth, and God. Anything less will be but a wave. It may rise for a time, but very soon it will sink again and be forgotten.