A story about a monk and a scorpion shows the personal price you can pay for addressing a need. Two monks paused from their work by a stream. One of them saw a scorpion caught in an eddy, likely to drown. As he scooped up the creature, returning him safely to the bank, it stung him on the hand. The monk’s friend said, “No good deed goes unpunished!” The first monk replied, “This creature’s nature to sting should not affect my nature to serve.”
Making a difference in the world requires a certain resolve we can break down into four daily habits. When the dog bites and the status quo stings, what makes a difference-maker different?
Positive influence begins with a different outlook–above the circumstances. Howard Hendricks tells about a friend’s response each week to his question, “How are you?” He would reply, “Not bad under the circumstances.” After about the fourth time, Hendricks said, “Well, what are you doing under there?!” Staying positive requires a certain resolve to live above the circumstances. This resolve is not a platitude like, “Don’t worry, be happy.” It means having wisdom to see the difference between what can be changed and what cannot.
Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, describes what he calls a “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal.” Steve Jobs had a similar kind of outlook. He set out to “…make a ding in the universe.” Difference makers think big by living in the tension between the brutal reality of what is, and the great faith of what could be. That tension allows us to dream big without living in the clouds. It keeps our efforts practical and vision directional.
The dog-eared story about a boy rescuing starfish from a hot beach has been much abused as if it were some idealistic picture which ignored a complex and broken world. The story merely elevates the value of “acting small,” and the worth of life-on-life influence. In the story, as the boy throws starfish back into the sea, a mocking voice rings out: “You’re hardly making any difference.” Chucking another one into the water, the boy replies, “I made a difference for that one.”
The story about the scorpion above shows that difference-makers do not tie their efforts to the accolades of the world. The cynic says, “No good deed goes unpunished.” The difference-maker knows that influence is a long haul. It requires a long obedience in the same direction.