Years ago, I had a revolutionary thought while standing on a revolutionary spot. It was snowy, cold, and crowded. I don’t like crowds, but I didn’t see these people as a crowd—I saw them as individuals. I saw them as people like myself—as people with hopes, dreams, families, and lives as real as my own. And as I looked at them, I was reminded that seeing the reality of someone else—seeing others as people like yourself—can revolutionize your world. Indeed, this thought is worth millions.
A Revolutionary Painter
Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) was an American painter who is best known for his portraits of leading figures of the Revolutionary War. In fact, when we think of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, or Thomas Jefferson, we’re probably picturing them the way Charles painted them.
During the Revolutionary War, General Washington was forced to retreat across the Delaware River, in the middle of winter. Shortly thereafter, a unit of militiamen from Pennsylvania rode into Washington’s camp, among whom was Charles Willson Peale.
Charles walked among the dispirited troops and said they looked as wretched as any he had ever seen. One man, in particular, had almost no clothes. Peale wrote about it in his diary: “He was in an old dirty blanket jacket, his beard long, and his face so full of sores that he could not clean it.” It took a while before Charles suddenly realized that the man was his own brother, James. (Source: 1776 by David McCullough)
A Revolutionary Thought
That is a remarkable, true story. And I think it teaches us a revolutionary thought: We are more alike than we tend to think. On the deepest level of our humanity, we are all brothers and sisters. If we could see that—if we could all look past our labels, our trappings, and our masks, and really see one another as people like ourselves—then we would quickly end hostilities. We would not spend our time, energy, and money, on war but on the creation of better things.
Now, that sounds a little “hippy dippy” and idealistic, I know. But bear with me. Remember that “revolutionary spot” I told you about earlier? That was Red Square in Moscow, Russia.
A Revolutionary Square
Russia isn’t known for its “inclusiveness.” In fact, Russia is probably best known (in America) for its wars and walls. Red Square is a testament to both of those things. Be that as may, I love Russia. I lived in the Vladivostok area for about a year and then six months in Moscow. Many of my closest friends are Russians. Two of those Russians are like family to me.
But I didn’t see them that way at first.
No, it wasn’t until that snowy night—on that revolutionary square in Moscow—that I had a revolutionary thought: What if these people aren’t just people? What if they have hopes, dreams, families, and lives as real as my own? What if these people are really my brothers and my sisters?
That thought revolutionized my view of Russians and changed the way I live and work. I tell that thought to you with the hope that it might revolutionize your own life.
After the American Revolution, James Peale moved in with his brother, Charles Peale. And together, they worked side-by-side on paintings that would, one day, be worth millions.
Clearly, there is external value in fostering friendships, instead of hostilities. There is value in the things we create. But infinite, by far, is the value within each of us. Remember that the next time you find yourself on a crowded street. You and I walk among priceless people.