What determines the impact of what we do? There are varying schools of thoughts on how involved we should be in creating an impact on the world. Yes, the world and future generations is the largest umbrella that we can think of currently on which the sphere of our influence can extend.

There were people like Napoleon, who influenced the political and social climate of an entire continent, primarily for his self – seeking end to be proclaimed an Emperor. History was lucky, that along with ambition and supreme military skill, he was blessed with good sense. His legal reform in France, the Napoleonic Code, has influenced many civil law jurisdictions worldwide. But his cause was himself.

And then there were people like Mahatma Gandhi. Known as the Father of the nation, he was instrumental in winning Swaraj through his non-violent methods. He led nationwide campaigns for easing poverty, expanding women’s rights, building religious and ethnic amity and ending untouchability. A nation was delivered, 350 million people now had the freedom to choose their own destiny. Because one man was relentless unto death in his belief that the miscarriage of justice must be stopped.

We also have people like Jonas Salk, who discovered the Polio vaccine. Wikipedia says his desire was to help humankind in general rather than single patients. When he undertook a project to determine the different types of Polio virus, he saw an opportunity to make his dream come true – to help human kind, by developing a vaccine against Polio. He devoted seven years to develop a safe and effective vaccine as rapidly as possible, with no interest in personal profit. When he was asked in a televised interview who owned the patent to the vaccine, Salk replied: “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

On a smaller scale, we have people like Terry Fox. In 1980, with one leg having been amputated, he embarked on a cross-Canada run to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Although the spread of his cancer eventually forced him to end his quest after 143 days and 5,373 kilometres , and ultimately cost him his life, his efforts resulted in a lasting, worldwide legacy. The annual Terry Fox Run, first held in 1981, has grown to involve millions of participants in over 60 countries and is now the world’s largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research. A legacy that will benefit thousands of others started because Terry understood what it meant to have cancer.

A vast majority of us go through life with minor inconveniences. Rarely are we ever faced with a gross miscarriage of justice like apartheid or communalism or racism or even poverty. We go through life with a decent home, a fairly decent education and usually a decent married life. The quest to provide a secure future for ourselves and our dependents being the only cause that drives our life. Some of us do have our pet causes, promoting sports in schools, promoting reading in the community, volunteering with NGOs at blind schools, something that brings fulfillment to our lives as we go to bed every night. Something that makes us feel good that we have given something back to society for all the good that we have enjoyed.

I guess we can term it as a hobby. We can attend to it when we have the time and convenience. The matters of everyday life always claiming precedence. How can we do otherwise? How many weekends can I sacrifice? How many night vigils can I keep? For how long? How many government offices will I visit? How many department officials shall I see? I have a life to live and cannot give that up for what maybe a lost cause. And the streets remain unsafe, the women remain targeted, the disabled remain ignored and the exploited remain less-than-human. Till someone in my own family becomes a victim. And the pain becomes real. And the air of apathy unbelievable. How can one live with such injustice?

What can I do? Am I being an irresponsible citizen by not jumping on the bandwagon of the first worthy cause that comes to town? Am I guilty of handing down an oppressive and unsafe world to my children? I don’t think so. The deep rooted feeling of pain and hurt at the injustices we see around us is testament to the fact that we were all created in an image that was modeled on someone that was intrinsically and morally just. The hardness of the world has done its bit in dehumanizing us, yet like in Jean Valjean, there exists a chink in every hardened heart through which the light of virtue can filter through and perhaps transform us into real human beings.

This light we must allow to infiltrate our lives. This light of hope, of goodness, of mercy. We are teachers, doctors, mothers, gardeners, managers, scientists, and the lot, usually not very high in the pecking order. We are limited in our talents and abilities and even resources. But we are all members of this body called humanity. And like the human body, we are all unique in our positioning and capability. I believe that we are called to use this uniqueness in our lives to give back what we can. To invest in the lives of others, so that they come out in the mould of virtue, strong against the winds of oppression.

Can we sacrificially give of ourselves and our particular talent – that of cooking, organizing, visiting, advising, listening, sewing, administration, networking, anything that we naturally excel at, to the good of our community? Do we dare to make that a lifestyle, one of the goals of life? I believe therein lies the power of transformation. To live a life of service, committed to the ideals we believe in, free from prejudice towards one and all. A life that dares to invest in the life of others, remaining committed in the face of indifference. Victory lies in the perseverance of everyday tasks.

NB: Inputs from Wikipedia regarding the biographies of the 4 notable persons mentioned.