You too are an “influencer”
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
This remains one of my favourite quotations that speaks to the potential to influence others that we all have lying inside us. There are powerful influencers in history such as Mandela, Martin Luther King, John F Kennedy, Mother Theresa and Ghandi who have been placed in the spotlight by those around them and whose words and actions were observed, recorded and repeated. These days we have people of influence such as Greta Thunburg, the Swedish environmentalist who is making great waves in the world as a 16 year old who says uncomfortable things in a rather direct manner.
The world of influence also has people who have made a career out of influencing others and indeed carry the title of “influencer” as they make skilful use of social media platforms to endorse products and places in return for free services. This was certainly a career that didn’t exist to this extent before social media but which did exist in society as celebrities were written about in newspapers and magazines and their lavish lifestyle was envied by some who wanted to look like them and have what they had.
You too have people of influence in your life that come and go and the extent of their influence waxes and wanes with the times. You were totally dependent on your parents at the start of your life and are still greatly dependent on them and other adults in your community as you grow into adulthood. As you grew up so your teachers took on a more important role and influenced you. And now, perhaps the greatest influence on you at this stage of your life is your peers as you seek acceptance and approval in the quest for friends and connections at school and in social circumstances. And we forget sometimes, in our desire for external approval, that we too influence others. Every single one of you can influence those around you – for the good.
You may think that today, as we inaugurate our new leadership structure, you have no leadership role to play and you would be wrong. Leadership comes in many forms and exists in many places – the classroom, sports field and on the playgrounds. Leadership is doing what is right despite the crowd opinion. Leadership is calling out someone who makes racist or sexist comments. You see – leadership is simply influencing others and you all have the potential to do just that. As Hale says, you may not be able to do everything but you can do something and that small thing may just make a difference in someone’s life.
So instead of seeing influencers as good-looking people on social media doing things that seem wonderful and exciting or in our school as prefects and house prefects, look to be an influencer yourself in the small things. Greet people every day. Smile at them and make them feel welcome. Laugh with people not at them. Help the weak and lonely. Be kind and have patience with old people and play games with small children. Show others, through your small actions, that you can change those around you.
As a mathematician, I love looking at patterns and influence has the potential to be an exponential pattern. If you, through your kindness, influence two people and they influence two people each themselves, we have two plus four people feeling better about themselves. Then those four do the same and we suddenly have another eight, then sixteen and so on. If this pattern of influence started at our school it would take just over 10 days for everyone to feel some positive influence. And just over 25 days to reach every single person in South Africa. And just a week later to reach every single person on the planet. Such is the power of exponential growth and influence.
Now we know this isn’t going to happen on this scale but understand that you can influence others for the good and they might just “pay it forward”. And change our school and the world.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”