Recently, I’ve been studying the life of William Wilberforce and have been impressed by the impact he continues to have today in the 21st century. Born into a wealthy family, he was part of the upper class in England, attended Cambridge University and was elected to Parliament at the age of 21. He easily could have continued to enjoy life as part of the high society with a large inheritance and simply been just another British politician.
What made Wilberforce endearing and forever memorable was what happened three years after being elected. He met Reverend James Ramsay who was an active voice for abolition and putting an end to the slave trade. This extended conversation had a huge impact on Wilberforce and over the next few years he underwent a transformation in nearly every aspect of his life.
He considered ending his political career, but many encouraged him that he could do more good toward the cause as a persuasive member of parliament. So he spent the next 50 years of his life trying to abolish slavery world-wide, standing up for good morals in society and helping shape much of what we consider western civilization values.
This caused me to reflect on what good I can do in my lifetime and what legacy I want to leave. William Wilberforce was so exemplary for me because he took the harder path and challenged himself, the British Empire and his peers on something so uncomfortable when it would have been easier to simply be a wealthy politician and accept the status quo.
Now, I’m not simply suggesting we should all be political activists and spend a career in congress to make an impact. But the lessons I learned were:
- That just because something is accepted and the norm doesn’t make it acceptable or the right thing.
- That when we are at a crossroads and have a choice to make, the more selfless choice is usually the right one that will help us grow and become more than we planned.
- And to find what you are passionate about and get involved. Make a difference and stand out even in your individual community, business or family.
“It is the true duty of every man to promote the happiness of his fellow creatures to the utmost of his power.” – William Wilberforce