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What Can You Do? May 20, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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I enjoy collecting and sharing inspirational quotes.  I’ve arranged a few of my favorites on the Quotes page of this blog in the hope that others may garner similar inspiration from them.  I know that there are thousands of these collections, far larger and more comprehensive than mine.  Mine are, well, mine; they come from people that I admire for various reasons.

The newest addition to my collection comes from a relative unknown, Nicholas Winton:

I just saw what was going on and did what I could to help.

What did Nicholas do?  In the waning days of 1939, he saw what was happening to the Jews in Czechoslovakia.  He went to Prague, opened an office, and arranged to have 669 Jewish children sponsored and moved to Great Britain.  An additional trainload of 250 children was to have left on September 3, 1939, but war was declared and the train was canceled.  Those children were killed by the invading Germans.

Nicholas Winton turned 100 yesterday, on May 19, 2009.  He is inordinately modest (he never even told his wife what he had done), and I certainly have not done his story justice.  You can learn more about him here and here, and a 2002 movie tells his story as well.

It would be impossible to catalog the downstream good that Winton’s actions caused.  How many subsequent good acts were undertaken by those he saved?  And by their children, and in turn their children? How many people have benefited by some action of those saved by Winton, but have no idea that they could trace that act back to one man, doing what he could to help, in 1939?

Few of us, regrettably, will have the impact of Winton.  But all of us can have some impact, in some way, every day.  No act of good, no matter how small, is wasted.  Most importantly, we can never know the true measure of any act of good.  What seems small to us may be huge to someone else.

There is an apocryphal tale of a small boy walking on a beach covered with starfish washed up by the tide.  As he walks, he picks up starfish and throws them back into the water.  His father asks him “Why throw them back? You can’t save all the starfish.  What difference does it make?”  The boy picks up another starfish, throws it, and says “It made a difference to him.”

Today, in honor of Nicholas Winton, make a difference to someone.  In each situation you encounter, ask yourself two simple questions:

What is going on?

What can I do to help?

Imagine a world where we all did that every day.  Now stop imagining and go do it!


1. Frank - May 20, 2009

Great analogy! I love the concept of learning lessons from history and relating them to business and life. I do this all the time on my own blog –
love to get your thoughts

2. Joe Williams - May 21, 2009

Great story, Chuck. A lesson for all of us: “and therefore I’m going to do X.” Who knows what wonderful results will happen simply by being commited to take an action?

3. daisy - May 21, 2009

great post! The starfish story has always been one of my favorites. 🙂

4. Lynn M - May 29, 2009

Wow! Both stories are wonderful! People like Nicholas are few and far between. While I don’t think it is rare (I hope not) for many of us to do good things for others, I don’t think many keep their deeds to themselves. Thanks for sharing these.

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