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When Ordinary People Achieve Extraordinary Things

From the book "This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women"

I believe it is possible for ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. For me, the difference between an "ordinary" and an "extraordinary" person is not the title that person might have, but what they do to make the world a better place for us all.

I have no idea why people choose to do what they do. When I was a kid I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I did know what I didn't want to do. I didn't want to grow up, have 2.2 kids, get married, the whole white picket fence thing. And I certainly didn't think about being an activist. I didn't even really know what one was.

My older brother was born deaf. Growing up, I ended up defending him, and I often think that is what started me on my path to whatever it is I am today.

When I was approached with the idea of trying to create a landmine campaign, we were just three people in a small office in Washington, D.C., in late 1991. I certainly had more than a few ideas about how to begin a campaign, but what if nobody cared? What if nobody responded? But I knew the only way to answer those questions was to accept the challenge.

If I have any power as an individual, it's because I work with other individuals in countries all over the world. We are ordinary people: My friend Jemma, from Armenia; Paul, from Canada; Kosal, a landmine survivor from Cambodia; Haboubba, from Lebanon; Christian, from Norway; Diana, from Colombia; Margaret, another landmine survivor, from Uganda; and thousands more. We've all worked together to bring about extraordinary change. The landmine campaign is not just about landmines -- it's about the power of individuals to work with governments in a different way.


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I believe in both my right and my responsibility to work to create a world that doesn't glorify violence and war, but where we seek different solutions to our common problems. I believe that these days, daring to voice your opinion, daring to find out information from a variety of sources, can be an act of courage.

I know that holding such beliefs and speaking them publicly is not always easy or comfortable or popular, particularly in the post-9/11 world. But I believe that life isn't a popularity contest. I really don't care what people say about me -- and believe me, they've said plenty. For me, it's about trying to do the right thing even when nobody else is looking.

I believe that worrying about the problems plaguing our planet without taking steps to confront them is absolutely irrelevant. The only thing that changes this world is taking action.

I believe that words are easy. I believe that truth is told in the actions we take. And I believe that if enough ordinary people back up our desire for a better world with action, we can, in fact, accomplish absolutely extraordinary things.

Jody Williams is the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. Williams previously did humanitarian work for people in El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Her interest in advocacy began with a leaflet on global activism handed to her outside a subway station.

Reprinted from the book:This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman, eds. Published by Henry Holt. (October 2006;$23.00US/$31.00CAN; 0-8050-8087-2) Copyright © 2006 This I Believe, Inc.

About the Editors:
Jay Allison, the host and curator of This I Believe, is an independent broadcast journalist. His work appears often on NPR and has earned him five Peabody Awards. He is the founder of the public radio stations that serve Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and Cape Cod, where he lives.

Dan Gediman is the executive producer of This I Believe. His work has been heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Fresh Air, Marketplace, Jazz Profiles, and This American Life. He has won many of public broadcasting's most prestigious awards, including the duPont-Columbia Award.

To read more essays and submit your own, please visit www.thisibelieve.org.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 27). When Ordinary People Achieve Extraordinary Things, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, May 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/alternative-mental-health/sageplace/when-ordinary-people-achieve-extraordinary-things

Last Updated: July 17, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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