More than 2,000 years ago, the mathematician Archimedes said, “Give me a place to stand and I’ll move the world.”
Taking a stand is a way of living and being that draws on a place within yourself that is at the very heart of who you are. When you take a stand, you find your place in the universe, and you have the capacity to move the world.
Stand-takers have lived in every era of history. Many of them never held public office, but they changed history through the sheer power, integrity, and authenticity of who they became as a result of the stand they took. Remarkable human beings such as Mother Theresa, Dr. Jane Goodall, Marion Wright Edelman, President Nelson Mandela, and President Vaclav Havel lived their lives from stands they took that transcended their identities or their personal opinions.
Anyone who has the courage to take a stand with their life joins these remarkable figures. You may not become famous or win the Nobel Prize. Your work may be centered on raising children or any of the other tasks that contribute to the evolution of humanity. Whatever you do, your stand gives you a kind of authenticity, power, and clarity.
I had the privilege to be in South Africa during the final days of apartheid. It was clear that apartheid was composed of a multitude of “positions.” When people take a position, it immediately creates an opposition, just as left creates right, up creates down, right creates wrong, bad creates good. That position itself can create a strained environment flooded with force, opinions, anger, resentment, prejudice, and even hatred.
In South Africa, the environment was shut down—almost intractable. Then, while he was still in prison, Nelson Mandela took a stand; he came to the realization that in any liberation movement, it’s as important to liberate the oppressors, as it is to liberate the oppressed. The oppressors have to shut down their hearts, their access to their own spirit, and their own humanity in order to hate. And because of that, they are as much in prison as the oppressed.
At a luncheon, following his inauguration as president, Mandela said that he came to understand that his jailers were also trapped. He took a stand for the liberation of all races, all people.
When Mandela took this stand, he created an environment that elevated everyone’s thinking and action. Even President F.W. De Klerk, his former enemy, opened up to profound dialogue. This shift from an environment caught up in “positions” to one inspired by a “stand” was central to the miracle of the end of apartheid.
A stand such as Mandela’s is almost like a magnetic field for greatness and for truth. In the presence of someone who has taken a powerful stand with their life, new qualities, new visions, and new clarity become accessible to everyone.
When you have taken a stand with your life, you see the world as the remarkable, unlimited, boundless possibility that it is. And people see themselves through your eyes in new ways; they become more authentic in your presence because they know you see them for who they really are. The negativity, the dysfunction, and the positioning begin to fall away and they feel “gotten,” heard, or known.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he chaired. During the commission’s sessions, people had the courage to forgive the person who murdered their daughter, or amputated the arms and legs of their son. They forgave horrible atrocities, rose above the sea of hatred, and entered a new place where they could take a stand for life. In the presence of a stand such as we witnessed in South Africa, positioning dissolves and people find a place in their hearts and souls for forgiveness.
Buckminster Fuller once said, “When you discover the truth, it is always beautiful, and beautiful for everyone with no one left out.” This is also true of taking a stand.
Taking a position does not create an environment of inclusiveness and tolerance; instead, it creates even greater levels of entrenchment, often by insisting that for me to be right, you must be wrong.
Taking a stand does not preclude you from taking a position. One needs to take a position from time to time to get things done or to make a point. But when a stand is taken it inspires everyone. It elevates the quality of the dialogue and engenders integrity, alignment, and deep trust. Taking a stand can shape a person’s life and actions, and give them access to profound truths that can empower the emergence of new paradigms and a shift in the course of history.