This column is adapted from a TEDx talk the writer delivered last month at Glen Pine Pavilion.
Inside each of us is a dormant power, a power that lies in wait for the time and place that it will be released. Just like a seed, hard and dry, waits for the perfect conditions in which to sprout and grow.
Here’s the catch.
This power can stay hidden if the conditions are not right, just as the seed will never sprout if deprived of water and light.
We should all have a chance to feel our potential awake in some way. So what is the answer? Inspiration.
Inspiration is the trigger that can rouse this dormant power, and it is with inspiration that our hidden potential is discovered, hope and empowerment are actualized.
In some moment in our lives, we have all been inspired by some person, place or thing. Hopefully, it won’t have happened only once.
Being a visible minority, I witnessed a lot of racial discrimination growing up. I remember during my final year of high school, a student called my Korean friend a racist name. I was immediately overcome with anger and fought back — not with words, but with fists. Our vice-principal quickly broke up the scuffle. Luckily, no one was hurt.
As expected, I was asked to make my way to the principal’s office — a place that was unfamiliar to me. Once I got there, Mr. Nelson’s face displayed the gravity of his disappointment.
With a three-day suspension and five words, he sent me home.
Those words were: “You’re better than this.”
Initially, I felt justified retaliating against the injustice of racism. But Mr. Nelson’s words would call me to rise above the prejudice and find ways to address a social wrong with a noble course of action. His words resonated for the duration of the suspension and have lasted with me until today.
The word inspire is an amazing word and, when experienced, it can be magical. It has an Indo-European root that means “to breathe life into someone.”
Many of us can refer to various moments of personal inspiration. The “breath of life” might have penetrated us by an urban forest through which we stroll, a piece of art we admire, a book we read, a song we hear, a teacher we know.
In my case, the words of Mr. Nelson guided me for most of my adult life. The impact of those words inspired me to always seek excellence in what I do.
Many of us have hidden gifts and talents unbeknown even to ourselves. We need sources of inspiration, people who lift us up, give us a deeper sense of purpose, a hope that the world around us can and will be better. The biggest impact that anyone of us can have on another is to unlock her or his hidden potential.
I had the great fortune to reconnect with Mr. Nelson months ago and I reminded him of the inspiration he infused in me. Surprisingly, he had no recollection of either the scuffle or the five words. The seed that he sowed in me might have seemed insignificant to him at the time but the impact they had on my life trajectory was immense and for that I am eternally grateful.
The challenges our communities currently face require us to tap the potential in ourselves and in others to step up and address them. To fight for a cleaner planet, equal pay, housing affordability, gender equity and social tolerance.
More than ever before, the work of our communities depends on each of us finding our sources of power and putting them to work. Not only does each of us have the potential to do powerful things, we can also awaken that potential in others through inspiration.
Adel Gamar is a Coquitlam resident who’s a former policy fellow at Harvard Law School and current CEO of Gamar Leadership Group. He ran for mayor of Coquitlam in the Oct. 20 civic election.