Making a Difference


I guess everybody at some time longs to feel important and to do something that will be remembered by the people of the world—something that will change the course of history and become legendary because of its momentous impact on society. At least that’s the way I felt when I was a teenager.

Of course, I could dream of being rich and famous, or of making a major scientific discovery, or of being the first woman on the moon, or of being president of the United States. But somehow I knew those things were not within the realm of probability—at least not for me.

I was not exactly what you might call an outstanding person. I was a great follower, but never a leader. I knew I’d never be class valedictorian or win any contests or talent shows, and I was too uncoordinated in sports to excel. It’s not that I didn’t try or didn’t care. I was just shy and lacked self-confidence. So how could a person like me possibly make a difference?

I asked my mother what she thought I could do to make a difference in the world. She said getting through the school year without getting any low grades on my report card would certainly make a difference when it came time for me to go to college. I knew she was right, but that wasn’t the kind of thing I had in mind.

When I finally started to run out of ideas and hope, I turned to the Lord. I asked him to help me find something that wouldn’t take any special talents or qualifications, but would help me feel I was making a worthwhile contribution. Nothing earth-shattering—just something suited to my capabilities.

It wasn’t long afterwards that I got this genius idea. It was so right for me that I knew it had to be inspired—I never would have thought of it myself. The idea was that I should get to know the names of all the people that I came in contact with regularly—and greet them by name whenever I saw them.

I started with my own neighborhood and learned the names of everyone—even the children and pets. Then I went on to memorize the names of all my ward members. When I had successfully completed that, I started on my high school.

It was a big school in a large city, and it took me quite a while, but I did it. I didn’t pay any attention to racial or social boundaries. At first I felt a little strange saying hello and calling people by name who I didn’t even know, and I embarrassed myself quite a few times by accidentally calling people by the wrong name. But I got better at it as time went on.

It became a game to see how many new names I could learn in a day. Once in a while, I got some puzzled looks and some questions like, “Are you trying to win an election or something?” But for the most part, everyone acted like they really appreciated it.

Did it make a difference? I think so. Once Brother Barton, the oldest man in the ward, said to me, “Young lady, I think you are the only young person in this ward who knows my name. It sure is nice when you speak to me and remember who I am.”

Then one day at school I found an anonymous note stuck into my locker that said, “Thanks for saying hi to me today. I’m new at school, and I didn’t think anyone even knew my name. Thanks for making me feel welcome.”

I even got to like some of the people I’d previously thought were unfriendly or snobbish. When I started being nice to them and calling them by name, they were usually very nice in return.

The greatest difference it made, though, was in me. My whole attitude changed. I didn’t feel average or ordinary anymore. I felt that I was a special person who was doing something worthwhile because I was helping others. I could see them light up inside whenever I said their name and greeted them with a smile. It may have made only a small difference to them, but with the Lord’s help, it made a big difference to me.

[photos] Photography by Phil Shurtleff

[photo] As I worked hard to know people around me, I realized that I could identify them not only by name, but also by the title of “friend.”