I recently returned from my first visit to Caracas, Venezuela. This was my first trip for business to South America and I was inspired by the generous spirit, intellectual curiosity, courage and commitment of the people I was fortunate to meet. I was also reminded that the world is becoming a much smaller place. I was reminded that we are all global citizens and can find more commonality and connectedness than we might imagine. I was also reminded of my first visit to South America several years ago and my walk through The City of God.
I walked into the hotel lobby in Rio de Janeiro immediately after breakfast. The meeting had been called for 10:00 am. The agenda unknown. Immediately upon entering the lobby I knew what was coming next. I had seen that look in his eyes before. That crooked smile. I had known my friend for years. Traveled with him plenty. I knew that he was hatching a plan that most assuredly would push the confines of my comfort zone. He was heavy on the adventure agenda with a risk tolerance in business and life that far exceeded my own.
A guest had joined us. A Brazilian man. The presentation started with a question. “Gentleman, I trust you’ve all seen the movie, “The City of God?”
Affirmative. A cult classic.
He proceeded, “Today, we are going into the Favelas.”
I immediately replied, “I’m out.” The Favelas tend to be ruled by drug lords and are infamous for the drug trade and regular shoot-outs between traffickers and police. Not exactly the ideal afternoon vacation activity.
The objection was expected. This was perhaps the part my friend relished the most. He had counters. He had procured a guide that assured us safe passage. He had his pitch down cold. Per usual, he closed.
Two hours later a van dropped us off at the base of the Favelas and we started our walk into The City of God.
I have been a few places. Seen a few things. I am Delta Platinum heading into Diamond territory. When I was asked recently what was the most memorable experience I had from all my travels I can tell you these few hours were at the top of my list. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
Here are 5 things I learned on my walk through The City of God:
Everyone needs hope: There is so much hope in the eyes of a child. Two of the my favorite photographs from my trip to Brazil are the first two enclosed of the children we met in the Favelas. While clearly impoverished they were full of hope, happiness, light and life. They were fascinated by us and when you smiled at them they would smile a mile wide right back. I suppose in the circumstances they are faced with the light of hope can easily extinguish. Unfortunately, there was also plenty of hopelessness on display. Great leaders inspire hope in others and instill confidence in the future.
Most people are generally good and want to do good: Of course there are exceptions. Walking around anticipating those exceptions will ensure you miss out. I had a lot of people discouraging me from traveling to Caracas. Sure it can be dangerous. So is St. Louis. Most people are good. Most people aren’t that different from you or me. Empowering others to become the best of themselves and embracing our differences is real leadership. Business can be a force for good.
I have nothing to complain about: I got up this morning. Put clothes and shoes on my body. Buttoned a warm coat. Walked down the street to my neighborhood coffee shop. Purchased a cup of coffee and scone. I consumed clean water. The plumbing in the coffee shop was functional. I wasn’t threatened. I wasn’t injured. Not once this morning did I fear for my life or think about my safety. I sent e-mails on my MacBook Pro. Freely shared my ideas. Feel very confident about where my next meal is coming from. These things make me quite privileged. I live amid abundance and opportunity. Could it be better? Of course. But in considering and comparison, there isn’t a person in this coffee shop with me right now that isn’t so very fortunate to be sitting here.
We all can make a difference: We all have the power to make a difference. We all have the potential to contribute. We all have the permission to create change. One conversation. One connection. One meaningful moment that inspires action. How we make a difference is up to each of us.
Go Places. Meet People. Being somewhere new and being open and proactive about putting new people into our lives is well worth the effort. Those places and especially the people will help us evolve if we let them. New places and people wake us up. Challenge us. Provide a sense of adventure and renewed spirit. Inspired experiences can translate into inspired thinking and action.
Here are a few photo’s from my memorable walk.
Wherever you are walking today I wish you safe passage, meaningful memories and inspired thinking that leads to action.