I hesitated before I clicked the link on the story.
I’m a notorious scroller through my newsfeed, consuming headlines and scanning for an overview of information rather than reading every single word. When I click a link to a story, it has to be worth it. My time is limited (so I think) and I only want to read the best stuff. Or the important stuff.
As much as I hate “click bait” headlines, this one was hard to ignore.
Rip currents swept away a Florida family. Then beachgoers formed a human chain.”
First, I watched a video, which featured an interview with the victims. While I was glad they were alive, the story the video told was not what I was looking for. I wanted to know about the human chain. About how it started and who, if anyone, led the way.
The video had not affected me emotionally, so I was surprised that when I read the article I was crying real tears and I could not stop the flow of them.
With 10 people stranded in a rip current and law enforcement waiting for a rescue boat, ordinary people enjoying the beach that day decided to take action. And they changed the story. What could have been a tragedy is now a legendary tale of everyday heroics.
And how they did it is all the encouragement any of us need to change the world.
First, they decided to do something about it.
“These people are not drowning today,” Jessica Simmons thought, she told the Panama City News Herald. “It’s not happening. We’re going to get them out.” (Quoted in The Washington Post.)
This is the first step any one of us can take to effect change.
Whatever that thing is that’s happening in front of us that isn’t right, we can do something about it just by deciding to participate and not be a bystander.
Not today. Not on my watch. Not if I can help it.
Next, they recognized their strengths.
The woman who made this decision did so because she knew she was a strong swimmer. She did not enter the water on a passionate whim. That may have been what got some of the people into trouble, although I’d rather be the kind of person who jumps into the water to help than stands by waiting for someone else to help.
Her action was fueled by her conviction that she could do it. How many of us walk through life wanting to make a difference but believing that we can’t? I wonder what the world would be like if we took an honest look at our strengths and put them into action when a need crossed our paths.
Then, they used what they had on hand: surfboards and boogie boards and their own bodies.
It sounds like there wasn’t any professional rescue equipment on the beach at the time of the rescue. People grabbed what they had with them, the stuff they brought to the beach so they could enjoy the water.
I tell people all the time that I have no special skills when it comes to volunteering with a refugee resettlement agency. I don’t speak a language other than English. I’m not a teacher. I don’t have a law degree or social work training. But I’ve quickly learned that I can bring what I have: a working knowledge of American culture, life experience living in the U.S., a friendly smile, an incurable case of curiosity and a fierce loyalty for the newly arrived residents of our community.
One of the most powerful messages I’ve ever heard from a non-profit centered around the question “What do you have in your hands?” The organization funds and distributes micro-loans in developing countries and it’s the question that disarms helplessness. We all have resources, experience, talent that we can share with others, even if it’s not financial. That’s often the first thing we think of, but it’s not the only thing needed.
On the beach that day, all some people had to contribute was arms and legs. It was more than enough.
Finally, they worked together.
I don’t know how many people it takes to make a chain to cover 100 yards, but I know that five people wasn’t enough. Neither was 15. Some reports say it was more than 80 people who linked arms and stood firm and passed the struggling swimmers down the line until they, too, were on solid ground.
Few people can change the world alone. I’m sure there are some who do and who have, but the most effective change comes when people work together. Following the crowd doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.
Ten people are alive because these four principles were put into action, and more than those ten people have a renewed sense of the human capability for goodness.
So, can you change the world?
I absolutely believe we can.