City Year Founding Story: The Lighthouse

On a dark, foggy night, a ship came upon the light of
another vessel. The captain radioed his counterpart –
“Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North
to avoid a collision.” Through the crackly radio came
the reply: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15
degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”
The captain stood his ground. He radioed: “This is
the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert
YOUR course.” And again came the reply: “No, I say
again, you divert YOUR course.”
Outraged, the captain spoke loudly into the
radio: “THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS
ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP
IN THE UNITED STATES’ ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE
ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE
CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS.
I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15
DEGREES NORTH. THAT’S ONE-FIVE DEGREES
NORTH.”
And came the reply: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”

 

In a world constantly in need of improvement and
change, humility is a critical and powerful virtue.
As idealists and change makers, we are eager to
see transformation and excited by the opportunity
to make a difference, yet we may find our humility
diminished by a competing value, to make change
happen now. We feel our good ideas gaining
momentum, our passion for change is fueled by the
injustice and inequality all around, our drive and
commitment grows stronger, and soon, perhaps
without self-knowledge or intention, our humility
wanes.
As humility is lost, so is our effectiveness. Vanity and
self-importance cloud our judgment and rightly put
off those who otherwise may want to follow, or better
yet, lead, in the area of our deepest concern. Humility
is not only a force multiplier, but an idealist’s paradox:
to care so deeply about a cause larger than self, one
needs, as has been often noted, to lose oneself.
To be effective in social change, we must practice
selflessness, to seek not so much to be “right” as to
be effective, and to develop humility not only as an
admired character trait, but as a skill. Can we see
ourselves as others may see us, hear ourselves as
others may hear us, and view our actions as others
may perceive them? Can we have strong values and
beliefs, but always stand ready to learn, realize, or
even assume that we may not be right after all? By
asking others, “What do you think?” and making
no assumptions as to who may have an inspired,
breakthrough contribution, we can effectively lead
positive change, and avert disaster along the way.

 

City Year Founding Story: The Lighthouse

Alex Doeringer-Smith
Alex, a six-year-old at the time, took this picture after building the
lighthouse out of Legos on a beach in his hometown of Miami,
Florida. Alex likes City Year and the lighthouse founding story, and
hopes to be a scientist when he grows up.