Reflecting on my impact on others
Let me tell you a story. When I was in my twenties, I was a youth leader in a voluntary organisation called the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps. “The Order” as we called it offers first aid, ambulance and community care services all over Ireland. It has a youth section for junior members, called “cadets”. The youth section provides development, training programs and sporting activities.
I joined the Order as a cadet when I was 12. I got a huge amount out of it. I learned things like first-aid, home nursing and general outdoor skills. I went on camps around Ireland where I made lots of new friends. I went on first-aid duties at sporting events and concerts.
My favourite type of duty was a community duty. On Sunday’s we used the ambulance as a minibus to collect elderly people and bring them to mass. I witnessed adult members treat those people with great respect and care. I learned to mirror the adults in their behaviour and language. “Good morning Madam”. “Can I help you with your seatbelt Sir?”. Over time, I got to know the people that we collected. We would ask about each others’ lives. As a young person, it was liberating to get to know people in my own right, away from my family. The clients we collected got to know me as a young person for who I was, not as the son of my parents.
On Thursday nights, we collected two severely disabled people and we brought them swimming. Undressing the clients and bringing them into the pool required several people working together. It was a complex job that required collaboration, coordination and communication both with each other and most of all, with the client who was treated with great respect and dignity. I learned teamwork and compassion. I learned that even as a 12 year old, it was important for me to consider the impact that I could have on people.
When I was 22 and had just finished university, my girlfriend (now wife) and I set up a cadet unit in Whitefriar Street community centre in Dublin 2. We hired a room and we put the word out to local schools that we were going to have a weekly meeting from 6–7. On the first night, 4 children showed up. One of those children had just turned 10. He had walked a fairly long distance for a child that age. He told us that when he grew up, he wanted to work in the ambulance service. After the meeting, Michelle and I walked him home. Over the next few years the unit grew in members and in adventures. We brought the kids on the same camps that I went to when I was younger. We gave up our Saturday nights to bring them to discos which were big events for cadets. And we got them involved in first-aid and community duties.
At least 10 years later, members of the adult unit were out for Christmas drinks. I was a lapsed member at that stage but I still made the effort to meet up at Christmas to see old friends. The little boy who turned up at that first cadet meeting was now a man and he was still a member. At the end of the evening, he handed me a sealed letter which I read when I got home. In that letter he recounted how we had first met, how Michelle and I had walked him home and how we had a positive impact on his life. It was beautiful.
Here’s the point of the story. You’re not always aware of the impact that you have on people. But, people rarely leave your presence neutral. They will leave your presence energised or depleted. In the words of American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
As an educator, a friend, a partner and a colleague, I want to be mindful of my impact on others. I want to energise and empower. That requires really listening to people, acknowledging people, seeing people. Isn’t this just love?
In the words of The Beatles, “All you need is love, love Love is all you need”.