From little acorns, mighty oaks grow. This highly visual phrase can spur us on to make an effort at those difficult early stages of any project. Everything has a beginning. No matter how small or insignificant it might seem, we have to start somewhere.
This well known phrase came to mind this week, as I was preparing to attend the memorial service of good friend and business colleague, Professor Wangari Maathai. The Nobel Peace Laureate from Kenya has been a support and encouragement to me since we met and started working together in 2004. Her attitude to life, her clear-cut approach and her enthusiasm even when times were bleak have inspired many people worldwide. I was fortunate to talk with her extensively, as we travelled in Japan, Norway, France, Kenya and The Congo.
To many, Wangari was the tree lady. Although her work went much deeper and had far greater influence than this would seem to imply, she was best known for empowering women in Kenya to plant trees. By growing small trees from seed and selling them to foresters, women from poor families were able to take control of their lives and feed their families. The knock-on effects of such an empowering attitude were that, from this small act, these women had a value and a voice. They mattered. On top of this, they were saving their environment, replacing trees lost to industry and improving soil conditions and irrigation necessary for them to farm, survive and even profit.
Wangari died a short while ago and friends and colleagues gathered to remember her. It made me think of how many opportunities are lost because we fail to see the potential in our actions, or if we are impatient for results. Too often, we can be put off by the effort required to start a project. We want to see immediate results. Most of the time, life is not like that. In fact, as another popular saying goes: Life is not about the destination, it is about the journey. We need to put in the effort if we can expect to reap the rewards at the end. Those beginnings might seem quite inauspicious but we have to start somewhere. We have to plant the seeds of our own destiny. Change needs to start somewhere.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of the problems we face. Too often, people can feel unable to make a difference, so why bother making a start. If people around the world, people who have taken to the streets to speak out for change, had maintained this attitude to make their voices heard, then many more would still be living under the yoke of tyranny and oppression. Apathy is a virus that should not have any place in our world. There is too much that should be addressed for us to sit back and allow life to move on without us taking part. It is much easier to complain about a situation than to actually do something about it.
Any development has to start somewhere. It can start with one thought. This thought is nurtured by discussion and interaction with others, until the times comes to act. In Serbia as much as anywhere, it has been shown that people can make a difference in their lives if they embody the change they want to see. We can all make a difference.
Wangari used to tell a very simple story of a hummingbird. I would like to share it with you. One day there is a big fire in the forest and all the animals are scared. The elephants, lions and giraffes are running for their lives. Every creature is fleeing from the flames or looking on in fear. That is, all except one small hummingbird. This tiny bird decides it is going to do something. So it flies to a stream to collect water in its tiny beak, before going back to drop the water on the forest fire. The bird repeats this many times, a few drops at a time. Seeing what this hummingbird is doing, the elephant stops the bird and asks what it is doing. ‘What do you think you can do? This fire is too big and you are too little,’ the elephant says. Without being distracted from its efforts, the hummingbird replies simply, ‘I am doing the best I can’.
I encourage you to make an effort. Whatever you care about, whatever moves you, whatever interests you enough to get out of the chair and do something, just do it. In your own life or on a larger scale, even the smallest act can be empowering and make a difference. At the very least, go out and plant a tree.