#Nelson_Mandela made a difference in the lives of 50 million South Africans. (A small minority of those 50 million might argue that the difference for them was adverse. As with all change, our perception of the fairness of Life depends on from whose perspective it is being viewed, but that is another discussion altogether.) He has also touched the lives of countless non-South Africans around the world. Into the bargain he became President of a nation and is heralded internationally as one of the greatest leaders and Statesmen in history. Most people in the South African and the world have never met the man, but there are few who don't love, admire and respect Madiba.
Mother Theresa was canonized for her work. Gandhi was revered for the difference he made. Now weigh all of them against those who have not made a difference for the greater good: think Hitler, Osama Bin Laden and Mugabe. Each may have (or have had) a small band of adoring sycophants, but levels of international reverence for them remain somewhere between zero and pitiful.
The quest for self-aggrandizement is not uncommon in the world, but there seem to be two possible approaches to it. The first is when it is at the expense of all around you. Then you make no difference at all other than to your bank balance and ego. You particularly do not make the world a better place. The second is when the needs of those around you are also met in the process. For instance, Bill Gates achieved extraordinary levels of hegemony in the IT space, but if you consider that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made total grant payments in excess of US$26 billion since inception in the fight against AIDS, malaria, TB and other health scourges in under-developed countries, they have aligned self-interest with that of others in need of support. Ask the average TB survivor if he knows or cares how many software programs Microsoft sold. Then try asking if he is grateful for the treatment he got to save his life. My guess is that the Gates who created a Foundation with a purpose of saving lives is more likely to be the hero of the story than the Gates who founded Microsoft.
Making a difference propagates generosity, gratitude and a pay-it-forward mindset in the world. Is it not a world which embraces and flaunts those attributes in which we would like to bring up our children?
What if our greater purpose on earth was in fact to make a difference in the lives of others? To bring about change that would enhance the lives of others? This wouldn't have to mean that we couldn't have any other purposes for our lives, just that we would need to align those purposes with the greater purpose of making the world a better place. It is also not a pre-requisite that you need Bill Gates' money to make a difference. St Theresa didn't need it. She didn't need much money at all, quite frankly.
How do we make a difference? Start by considering your inherent blessings: your talents, mind and the creativity that flows from those. Consider how you might apply those to making a difference in the lives of others. Most importantly, consider what might be in it for you to make a difference. If you're not getting out at least as much in energy, satisfaction, gratitude or whatever as you put in, you'll eventually stray onto the path of self-indulgence to the exclusion of everyone else.
Choose where you can make your mark and how you want to be remembered. If you don't especially care how you get remembered and decide that your life is the only one that matters, that is also your choice, but I somehow don't believe that you will come to the end of it thinking that that was a life truly well lived.
As Gandhi said: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."