Beyond window dressing: Stand up, step up, speak up

Guest Column

I have one life and one chance to make it count for something…. My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.
—Jimmy Carter

A quote I heard a while back resonated loudly with my own heart, my life experience and my belief about humanity: “There are those who live to make a difference in the world; the rest are just window dressing.”

Each of us is given the gift of life, and with that life comes the opportunity—and responsibility—to do something that matters, something that makes a difference and leaves a mark on the world in which we live.

As an educator, there are so many times through the years I’ve heard people say, “I’m just one person; what difference could I possibly make?” And though I have been guilty of thinking the same, I spend most of my working days encouraging others to stand up, step up and speak up.

By definition, to stand is “to be set, placed, fixed or situated.” Sometimes, to make a difference requires that we merely set our minds on something, getting ready for what lies ahead.

To step is to create “a mark or impression by the foot on the ground.” In military jargon, this is akin to having “boots on the ground.” In other words, you go beyond the stance to moving forward, launching into action.

And, to speak is “to communicate, signify or disclose by any means; convey significance.” In other words, give voice to the passion that lies within you.

If you’re like most, you’re probably wondering what you could do that would matter. So, consider these possibilities:

  • Been touched by cancer or heart disease? Participate in a Relay for Life or Heart walk. Stand up, step up, speak up.
  • Aware of someone who has suffered a significant loss? Prepare a meal for them or offer to clean their home. Stand up, step up, speak up.
  • Know someone who has been sexually assaulted? Volunteer for the National Sexual Assault Hotline. Stand up, step up, speak up.
  • Have a passion for the homeless? Donate food, money, clothing or time to homeless shelters. Stand up, step up, speak up.
  • Familiar with a family who is struggling financially? Redirect your birthday or Christmas gifts to them. Stand up, step up, speak up.
  • Know of a young person who has gone off to college? Send them a care package. Stand up, step up, speak up.
  • Acquainted with a widow who doesn’t drive? Pick up her groceries or take her to appointments. Stand up, step up, speak up.
  • Concerned about child or adult literacy? Become a volunteer tutor. Stand up, step up, speak up.

If you’re still skeptical about what one person can do, reflect on this:

  • Marie Curie advanced medical science through her discoveries with radiation.
  • Martin Luther King inspired millions to seek social equality.
  • Rosa Parks served as a figurehead of the civil rights movement because of one courageous act.
  • Mother Teresa lived in poverty, yet showed compassion to all she met.
  • Socrates laid the foundation of Western philosophical thought.
  • Anne Frank, through nothing more than her diary, became a symbol of hope.
  • Harriet Tubman escaped slavery and returned to help lead slaves to freedom.
  • Billy Graham shared a message of religious love to billions.

Every act begins with a single gesture of hope, intellect, love, courage, insight. And, whatever we decide to do, big or small, we have the power as one person to create a ripple effect that can change the world. So just do it—stand up, step up, speak up. Be more than window dressing.

About Terilyn Goins, Ph.D. 64 Articles
Dr. Terilyn J. Goins is a motivational speaker/vocalist, trainer and coach. She offers a wide variety of training and motivational music programs. Goins creates programs that educate, inspire and challenge participants. Visit or reach her at 757-303-7807 or by email at

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