Kennedy, Gandhi, Roosevelt, Winfrey, Hitler, Lincoln, Jobs, King, Christ, Regan, Angelou, Churchill.
I could easily list a hundred others with my eyes closed. These are just a few of the people that have greatly inspired me, along with millions (and sometimes billions) of others.
A lot of bloggers write to me and ask if I have any tips for “inspiring the masses” through writing. I suppose that because I’ve had a few viral blog posts, people think I have a trick up my sleeve for doing it. A formula for hitting big groups of people, maybe. I don’t know.
But I have thought about it a lot over the past couple years.
How did Obama inspire so many Americans with his speeches during the last presidential election? How did Churchill give the free world such renewed faith in democracy once again? How did Lincoln inspire a nearly defeated group of people to stand up and claim their victory? How did Martin Luther King, Jr. pull two hateful sides together in ways that others hadn’t before him? How did one man make his business such a world powerhouse? How did one woman push millions of people to be better human beings? How does one writer, or singer, or actor inspire millions by writing, singing, or acting the same messages that many others already have, albeit unnoticed?
I believe, with all of my heart, that the people who inspire the masses are the people who understand that the masses cannot actually be inspired.
Never in the history of mankind has anyone ever inspired the masses.
The greatest figures of all time inspired only the individual.
And this, in turn, led to the inspiration of the masses.
Take Barack Obama, for example; our current commander in chief. At a time when America was beginning to fall apart financially, and the heart of war was still pumping loudly, and life for a lot of people just seemed bleak… a relatively unknown and unseasoned politician began telling everyday people that he would bring change for them.
His opponent, a man who was probably much more qualified for the job, played his game the way most politicians do. He said what he probably felt the masses wanted to hear. He pitched his own accomplishments, qualifications, and abilities. The words he chose to use were meant to give the entire country less fear about the future. They didn’t.
Obama, on the other hand, went straight to the heart of the individual. The country was almost an afterthought as he dove into the very real fears that individuals were experiencing. Fear of not personally having a job or money. Fear of not having social programs to help us in the future. Fear of not having medical help. Fear of losing loved ones in the war.
In the end, enough individuals were inspired by his words and he became the president.
He didn’t necessarily become the president because he was better. He became the president because he made so many of us feel like he understood us as individuals and that he was going to fight for us as individuals at any cost. And at that point in time, it’s what we really seemed to need.
Oprah Winfrey is another great example. She built an empire not by sitting down each day and thinking, “what can I say that will sit right with millions of people?” No, she built an empire by reaching out and touching people on individual levels. She constantly aimed her questions and responses to each individual who was watching or reading. She knew how to reach out from the television and make every person ask the same questions, face the same struggles, and be able to try on the shoes of those she brought onto her show.
A man named Adolph Hitler also did it in his rise to power. He inspired the individuals around him to believe in their superiority. He inspired them to believe in their rights, as twisted as they were. He inspired them to be able to rationalize horrific deeds. The man did not get up before anyone knew him and say, “let’s kill millions of people.” He would have been shot or ridden out of town. Instead, he began inspiring individuals. It’s what worked, has always worked, and will always work.
Steve jobs did it. We daily see the impact of the ability he had to inspire individuals. John F. Kennedy did it. We still quote him and think of him as one of America’s most important figures. Jesus did it. What started with a handful of individuals, is now more than a billion people strong.
Whether it was entirely purposeful or not, all of these figures knew how to reach out to individuals. They knew how to play leapfrog with fears, emotions, gratitude, sentimentality, and hope. They understood how to reach into large crowds and pick each spectator up by the collar. They never looked at a crowd and saw a crowd at all. They looked at a crowd and saw only one person at a time.
Each of these people were people just like you or me. They had two arms to raise, two hands with which they could gesture, two lips with which they formed words, and a heart that pumped blood throughout their extremities… just like you and I have.
But, they also had three things that most people don’t have.
First, they had complete conviction of their cause.
Second, they were willing to use their voice to make their causes happen, no matter the personal cost.
And third, they understood the secret that tells us, win the individual and you will win the crowd.
I assure you that no person ever could truly and continually inspire millions without complete conviction in their message or their product. People aren’t stupid. Where millions are involved, lack of true conviction will always be exposed. At the same time, it rarely actually needs to be exposed as the burden of duplicity eventually becomes too great for any person who lacks that complete conviction while standing in the limelight.
Of course, this world is not short-staffed of people who do have real conviction. You or I will never hear about most of the greatest crusaders and world changers that surround us. There are millions of people in this world who labor diligently, inspiring individuals and changing the lives of many every single day. They will never stand in front of large crowds or television cameras. They will live and die almost as quietly as the people they help.