A Revolutionary Thought

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)

George Washington looks on as his troops march to Valley Forge.

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.

A World Beyond Our Own

I think that the Great Depression and World War II are remarkable times in history. They’re remarkable because they prove that the very worst things can happen and yet, there’s still hope. That hope, however, is dependent upon our ability to see a world beyond our own—to see a world beyond ourselves.

The Arrogant Prince

Over one hundred years ago, in the state of New York, there lived an arrogant young man who dreamed of becoming the President of the United States. Truth be told, his chances of becoming the President were quite slim because nobody liked him. He was rich, spoiled, and deeply self-centered. He was a prince who didn’t care about anyone “below” him.

Be that as it may, this young man soon fell in love with someone who was his polar opposite—a woman who was kind, thoughtful, and deeply concerned about the welfare of others. Around 1904, she taught dance to children in New York City.

One night, the young man came to call on his girlfriend. She was not ready to leave because one of her students—a small girl—was very sick and needed to be taken home. The young man agreed to accompany his girlfriend to her student’s home.

He was not prepared for what he saw.

This small, sick girl lived in a tenement room in the slums of New York. The record describes her home as “not a pleasant place.” The young man looked around the room “in surprise and horror.”

When he and his girlfriend got back to the street, he took a deep breath and whispered: “My God! I didn’t know people lived like that!”

An iconic photograph of the Great Depression in America.

A World Beyond His Own

Seeing that room had a profound impact on that young man’s life. For the first time, he saw a world we seldom see—he saw a world beyond his own. From that point on, he began to change, little-by-little, for the better. He looked beyond his own little world of pain and labored to alleviate the pain and poverty of others. He and his wife devoted their lives to serving other people.

Their names were Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the 32nd President of the United States; he led the country through the Great Depression and the darkest days of World War II. Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the most influential First Ladies of the United States; she was instrumental in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

President Roosevelt wasn’t a perfect person—no one is. But he was a person who did his best to help others. Throughout his Presidency, he met with the poor and the downtrodden. He instituted programs and initiatives designed to lift people out of poverty. He even started an institute that helped people—particularly children—who were crippled by polio.

It should be noted that FDR, himself, was a victim of polio but he rarely mentioned it. In fact, most Americans, at that time, did not know that he used a wheelchair. He did not focus on that. His focus was on other people.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were lights in the wilderness of life. They offered hope in a time of great darkness. FDR once said: “In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose . . . the path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow man.”

A World Beyond Our Own

Every day, we are presented with opportunities to see a world beyond our own. As we interact with people, and learn of their suffering, we are offered the chance to enlarge our world and alleviate the “great depression” of another. And in so doing, we paradoxically bring greater light and life to ourselves.

G. K. Chesterton wrote: ““How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it . . . You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers.”

President Roosevelt in his wheelchair.