Last week a friend e-mailed me a link to an article about, as he put it, “a simple act changing the world.” It was the piece in Time about Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia and how he sacrificed himself because, in essence, he’d had it. A man selling vegetables who just wanted to earn an honest living found even that was being threatened. He set himself on fire and lingered in the hospital for weeks before dying.
“There was so much outrage over his ordeal that even President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, the dictator, visited Bouazizi on Dec. 28 to try to blunt the anger,” writes Rania Abouzeid. “But the outcry could not be suppressed and, on Jan. 14, just 10 days after Bouazizi died, Ben Ali’s 23-year rule of Tunisia was over.”
Of course now we know Bouazizi’s actions are rippling around the Middle East and continue to rattle the globe. I’d like to think there is an afterlife and that he is somewhere watching the results of his earthly death unfold and saying to himself, “Holy crow. Are you kidding me? There is power in one person taking action.”
At a time in our nation when so many are feeling squeezed, desperate, helpless or caught in a rut, it is making many of us more ripe for change, more open to flinging caution out the window and going for it, more willing to push the limits because we feel like we have nothing to lose. And because of that we gravitate to stories of those paving the way, in big ways and seemingly small.
I would be hard pressed to give you another example that comes close to Bouazizi’s in scope, for that is the giving over of one’s life. But trust me, if your eyes are open and you choose to see power in taking action, you will see it all around you.
Some found humor or even disrespect in comparisons of union members protesting in Wisconsin to the uprising in Egypt, but I chose to see the common thread that did lie at the heart of both: recognizing there is power in action. The idea that one person will show up for a cause and spur on another and another until whispers become a loud and clear unified shout is what sparks meaningful shifts and leaves marks.
Not everyone is meant to have the same level of impact, though, and while the aforementioned are sweeping examples, they can also be daunting to the average person whose desire is push through fear and see the power in making that one phone call or composing that one blog post. Maybe for some it’s not so much about effecting change in the world, but in their world. Anything else is a bonus.
So for someone like Massachusetts Congressman Scott Brown, it’s about standing up and running for office. And then it’s about getting the courage to publish his memoir and tell his story of an abusive childhood so that maybe even one person in a similar situation thinks they’ve got a shot to overcome it.
Or it’s in David Seidler making art. That’s all. Sitting at a desk and writing a story that took years, a story of a real king who overcame a stuttering problem that plagued him for years. This was a problem Seidler knew all too well, and one which prompted him to say last weekend, “I accept this on behalf of all the stutterers throughout the world” when he stood before that world with the Oscar statue for “Writing (Original Screenplay)” in his hand. The King’s Speech has resonated in a way that makes us feel his persistence in craft at a soul level; at age 73, he became the oldest recipient of that award to boot.
For anyone interested in looking beyond the fashion critiques and the running commentary on the hosts at the Oscars, there is always, always a moment or two that reinforces the notion that there is power in one’s own persistence of vision, one’s inherent faith. When Tom Hooper accepted the award for “Directing” – also for The King’s Speech -- he acknowledged his mother, not simply for her general support, but for seeing an unproduced reading of The King’s Speech in 2007 and making a phone call to him saying she thinks she found the next film he should direct.
Power lies in an action – hers for making that call and his for listening and setting the wheels in motion.
In the annual ‘power issue’ of Vogue (March), the “Letter from the Editor” by Anna Wintour says, “This year we’ve focused the issue on the power of the individual – the figures who compel and challenge us – and no one satisfies that brief more than [Lady Gaga].”
Writer Jonathan Van Meter’s story about spending time “embedded” with Lady Gaga on tour is engagingly written. I was particularly drawn to the part about what she is doing with her power.
“You have to reject all the evils of [fame] and try to turn all the positive things that you can use about fame into great things,” she said. “Like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Van Meter goes on to say Gaga “used her visibility, her unusual connection with her fans, and her social-media prowess to agitate for the repeal of the law, tweeting senators, making protest videos, and speaking at rallies.” Then he quotes the Lady herself, “That’s me turning my fame into something that is positive and makes me feel good about my life.”
The power of the individual.
Ask Kristina Kuzmic-Crocco about that. She was one of thousands who sent in a video to the Oprah Winfrey Network [OWN] for a shot at getting a show. She made the top 10.
“A few years ago I was at a point in my life where I literally had nothing,” she says in an OWN video after making the cut. “I hit bottom. So I started serving tables and now that I’ve come this far I’m going to get this – no, no, no, no – I’m going to earn this and show my kids that no matter what life throws at you, no matter what people tell you you can or can’t do, you dream huge. You dream so big.”
Last week Kuzmic-Crocco was selected by Oprah Winfrey to be one of two winners and her fun, irreverent show Kristina’s Fearless Kitchen will be produced by the network. In an interview after she won, the new host elatedly expressed her excitement that no one will ever be able to tell her again that she thinks too big. Her words moved me spiritually.
So let’s recap. She made a video. That was her action. She sent it in. Another action. Took each task as it came in the fierce competition. More action. Weathered the bumps and powered through. Boom, she’s on Winfrey’s payroll and her kids get to see how dreaming big works.
A simple act, changing her world and theirs, and the world of anyone else who cares to pay attention. You just never know what will happen next.