I was lifting weights at my gym, a community center in New York City, when he caught my attention.
His name, I later found out, was Marvin Moster. He stood a few inches over five feet, mostly bald with some white hair on the sides of his head, sporting a mustache, and wearing a light blue shirt and dark blue shorts. In the obvious ways, he was unremarkable. And yet, I couldn’t help noticing him.
He was older — I guessed in his seventies — and he was boxing with a trainer, punching in a rhythm they had obviously practiced before, ducking his head whenever the trainer threw a hook. Two things struck me: he was in excellent shape — evidenced by his balance, his rhythm, and how vigorously he was punching — and he was having fun.
“How old are you?” I asked him when he took a break.
“77,” he told me with a smile.
“I want to be like you when I’m 77,” I said.
His smile broadened. “And I want to be like you now.”
His laugh was infectious. It made me feel good just being around his energy, soaking in his enthusiasm. At least in that moment, he seemed delighted to be himself. That’s when the thought occurred to me.
“Can I take your picture?” I asked him.
“Sure,” he said, “What for?”
I pulled out my camera phone as he posed with his boxing gloves raised.
“I want you on my fridge,” I told him.
I don’t know Marvin. I don’t know whether he’s healthy or sick, wealthy or poor, happily married, unhappily married, single, divorced, or widowed. I don’t know his politics or what his friendships are like or whether he’s gay or straight or what he does besides go to the gym. I don’t even know if he’s a nice person.
But I do know that I wanted a little bit of what I perceived in Marvin — his energy, what appeared to be his sunny outlook — in me. So I took his picture.
Which got me thinking: Why not start a collection?
A collection of pictures of ordinary people, about whom I know very little, but who inspire me with some quality I want to nurture in myself.
Like the bus driver in Paris who, after I asked him which stop to get off for my hotel, asked me for the exact address and then pulled out his iPhone at a red light to check the map and suggest the closest stop.
Or the taxi driver who declined to take me to the airport because she was finishing her shift but pulled over, got out of her cab, and waited with me to make sure I got another taxi before leaving.
These are ordinary people in ordinary situations who surprised and inspired me. I want that to rub off on me.
But wait a second. I’ve written about high-profile leaders in this blog. People like the late Dr. Allan Rosenfield, the public health trailblazer whose work saved the lives of millions of people in developing countries. Or Jim Wolfensohn, the former President of the World Bank who fought courageously against corruption. Shouldn’t they be on my fridge instead of a moderately helpful bus driver?
Maybe. But being reminded about the bus driver can change my behavior today. I can look at his picture and be a little more helpful to others. He reminds me of something simple I want to nurture in myself. Same with Marvin.
I am not saying these people should inspire everyone; that everyone put a picture of Marvin on their fridge. I’m not suggesting we build a leadership model based on their examples.
I am suggesting you keep your eye out for your own Marvin. And when you find him or her, you take a picture.
This idea may seem simplistic. People are complex. If I really knew any of these people, I might not want them on my fridge. I don’t know why Marvin is boxing; maybe he spent four years in prison for some heinous crime and he wants to stay in shape because he’s planning another one? Most likely, I’m just projecting characteristics I like onto other people. I can’t honestly say that the inspiration isn’t more about me than it is about them
But here’s the thing: we’re always projecting things onto other people. We just often choose to be critical more readily than we choose to be inspired — to project more negative things onto people than positive.
In fact, we seem to rarely miss an opportunity to be disappointed. We focus on what people are doing wrong, on their weaknesses and shortcomings. We gossip and complain. We get frustrated and passive aggressive. We find ourselves constantly surprised by the flaws of our colleagues: How could he/she/they do that?
What if, instead — or at least in addition — we chose not to miss an opportunity to be inspired? If we gossiped about things people did that energized us without fixating on the things that disappointed us? If we looked for sparks that ignited our enthusiasm and incited our goodwill? And if we allowed those sparks to light our fires of passion?
If nothing else, we’d feel better about the people around us, the world we live in, and ourselves. Maybe just for a moment.
And maybe, after a few weeks or months, we’d end up with refrigerator doors filled with reminders of people who inspire us — not for lives thoroughly well lived — that’s probably too high a bar, too easy to fall off — but for drops of inspiration.
Every time I look at that picture of Marvin, it makes me smile. And it encourages me to eat a little better and exercise a little more.
So, who’s on your fridge?
Peter, Thank you for posting this article. Following are the things that raced through my mind as I read through this article:
1. We are constantly seeking to be inspired. Why is this? It seems like inspiration is to our minds as caffeine is to a sleepy self. Are our minds inherently programmed to become depressed and lazy in absence of inspiration? What is inspiration? Food for a tired mind? What tires the mind? Is it too many demands – for achievement, for accomplishment, for fulfillment, for problem solving, for decision making, etc?
2. The world may talk about its achievers but it stays in motion on account of its daily do-gooders. These do-gooders are not those who start their day with a resolve that I-will-do-some-good-today, but instead their actions are an inherent expression of who they are. How one responds to a given situation (regardless of whether it is perceived as helpful or not by another) is a direct outcome of who one is. As who one is changes, so does how one relates and interacts with one’s environment.
3. The sentiment that seems to be disappearing from the society at the same rate as the urgency with which it is needed today is – ‘care’. A simple word with unfathomable implications. The bus driver, the cab person – they did what they did because they cared. When we care, we are already helpful. In corporate training centers we emphasize too much on the actions – how to respond, what to say, what to do – but not enough on the center from which these actions spring – care. Then, what makes one care and another not? Is this something that can be taught? Is this something that one can learn? Can one learn how to care if one did not care to learn?
We are all too focused on the fulfillment of our personal needs, our ambitions, our desires. To step away from these – if only momentarily – and to genuinely ask and act upon how one can be helpful to another is already a step in the direction away from seeking inspiration to becoming one.
Thanks and regards,
I really loved the first point that you mentioned. Inspiration is like fodder for our mind to get it working! Nyc thought!
Thank you so much for reminding us of how important we are to each other in this life. We are each on individual journeys and we are also together, with the opportunity to help open each others hearts and minds.
Peter, you truly help us to reach for what is true — amid the busi-ness of life.
Hello Peter, I really liked this post. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we each began every day exhibiting behavior that would make someone want to put our picture on their fridge? :-) @ http://doriannsworld.wordpress.com/
Hello Peter, this post just spoke to me. I love the way you give words to thoughts and make the thought work.