What makes special, special
During my master's degree I met a former US Army Ranger who had gone on to get his PhD in War Studies. Part of his thesis had been about special forces and he would routinely say: "Special Forces aren't inherently special. What makes them special is that they do the little things incredibly well."
This alway stuck with me and it kept me focused on doing what I said I was going to do, when I said I was going to do it. I also made sure to celebrate the small victories, because they tend to add up to something important.
But these things are a bit intangible. Rarely do I have a specific example to give of somebody doing something simple and it having a big impact.
This week, however, I have the perfect example of how special personifies itself in everyday life.
The Growth Project
I volunteer for a local organisation called The Growth Project here in Melbourne. It is made up of a group of disadvantaged teenage boys, many of whom are from families of refugees from South Sudan, looking to make an impact in their community.
As bright of a picture that Australia likes to paint of itself, it can be a very tough place socially for people who are not white and these boys are very easily marginalised by the society here. The ironic thing is, most of them were born here in Melbourne, making them true-blue Aussies.
The boys take on local projects within the community. In January they built gardens in the housing estates and are planning on building another garden when the local basketball complex is finished being built.
As a result of their work and the publicity that the boys received, Mabior Chol of the Richmond Tigers got involved with the organisation as a local ambassador. Mabior, who came to Australia as a refugee himself, was able to arrange for the boys to visit the Richmond training ground during a light training day.
Programming Note for all Non-Australians: Australian Rules Football (the AFL) is king in the state of Victoria. It is a fast paced game that has deep local ties. Within the AFL, the Richmond Tigers are the best team. Upon moving to Australia, my wife told me that I was a Richmond supporter, so being able to watch them train was icing on the cake for me. (#gotiges)
A day at the Punt Road Oval
Ten of the programs twelve boys made their way to the training ground to watch the Tigers during their mid-week preparations. It was important for them to see the effort, discipline, and work that goes into accomplishing team goals.
Many of the players stopped by the bleachers to talk to the boys during the session. They would kick them a few balls and had a bit of banter. Even after training, a few of the players came into the stands and just hung out with the boys.
Everyone was great and incredibly welcoming, but there were 2 instances during the day of someone doing a little bit extra:
The first was Mabior himself: he is a young player who is fighting for his place in the team. He took a big step up in reaching out to the community and giving back. Besides trying to earn a spot for the Tiger's next game, he made sure to come over and welcome all the boys. He also made sure some of his teammates came over to meet them as well.
In the highly competitive of professional sports, putting yourself out there is challenging. But the day was a success and I think it goes a far way in showing a club like Richmond that he brings more to the table than just footy ability.
The second instance involved Dusty Martin, the Kevin Durant of the AFL.
Dusty walked over during a break to say hi to the boys. They all know who he is, and they each tried to play it cool. Dusty shook everyone's hand and started to trot back to training before turning around and asking, "Do you guys want a picture?".
It was a moment of incredible self awareness: he knows that he is a star. For most professionals, a shake of the boys' hands would be par for course. But he also realised that they would like a picture with him. 30 seconds later and he was back in line for a drill, but the impact on the boys was immense.
I can't thank the Richmond Football club enough for having us and it was great to see the boys get a bit of a reward for their effort. For a group of boys that is easy to overlook, Mabior and the club made them feel special.