This is a question I have been reflecting on since a recent trip to Atlanta visiting Coca-Cola. At the Civil Rights Museum, it is posed as a challenge to visitors, after showing them dark events of the past and some of the brave individuals who stood up against them.
Yesterday would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday. It was an occasion that was marked the world over, recognising this giant of a human being and his extraordinary achievements that not only changed South Africa, but inspired the world. The question again reverberated: Am I a simply a Bystander? What more should I do?
Now of course for most of us, we cannot begin to compare ourselves to individuals like Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela. We are simply deeply inspired and humbled by people like them. They changed the hearts and minds of those around them, eventually changing whole communities, countries and the course of history itself. We need to know about these people – to laud them, and to remember them.
But while we cannot all be giants, we all have a role to play; we should not simply rest on their shoulders.
I do feel that sometimes we forget that while we cannot all be Mandela or King, we can still make a difference. That difference may at times feel so small and negligible - but as we know from the field of culture - sometimes larger change comes from many small changes that persist and grow.
So, let’s actively ask ourselves - what unfairness or bad practice exists within the cultures around us, whether in a company or a community, and what can we do to be upstanding and bring about positive change?
As managers and leaders, we must first make sure we listen. Often, people with the least authority may be the ones with the most knowledge. And issues that go unspoken are issues that will fester. We must ask the right questions in the right way, and do everything we can to create a culture of ‘justice’ rather than ‘blame’.
We must also challenge ourselves regularly. Do we really do enough to create an environment where everyone feels safe enough to share their knowledge and experience, their fears and their concerns? Are we vigilant to the struggles of others and are we actively doing what we can to help? Let’s make sure we do.
Inspiration from heroes, sung and unsung, is all around us. Let’s find them and use their examples in our everyday life to create a positive culture around us. Let’s do this in our home, in our place of work, in our communities.
Personally, I know I have a way to go, and I would love to hear your ideas and suggestions for how we can be more than bystanders, and how we can make a positive difference.