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Innovators, by definition, are people who improve the status quo. Many of us aspire to be innovators. We rightfully consider people like John Lewis heroes. As it is with many things, it is important to understand why John Lewis is a hero.
I think that many people (including aspiring innovators) are afraid of being ostracized or socially outcast. We want to fit in. This is understandable. Evolution has programmed this instinct in us, and socialization is among the most basic of human needs.
Yet more than his reputation, John Lewis sacrificed an even more basic human need that predates the need for socialization: physical safety.
John Lewis risked torture and death because he lived with purpose. His purpose was not to maximize his personal well-being, but instead to create a more just world.
We can honor his example by living with purpose. We can put the needs of our fellow humans before the need to cling to what is comfortable. Most of us are fortunate enough to not need to risk our physical safety, but we may need to risk things like social harmony and our averageness if we are going to build a better world.
For example, if innovators like Lewis had succumb to the fear of going against the status quo, we would still have slavery and Jim Crow laws in this country. We would be a democracy in name only, with only property-owning white males being allowed to vote. Hell, in actuality we’d probably still be hunter-gatherers. Reasoning on the basis of what is conventional precludes any kind of advancement—whether social or technological.
But it is not enough to simply think past convention. We must openly challenge outdated practices if we want to build a better world.
In memory of John Lewis, let’s fight like hell for the better world that is still possible. Especially when it is uncomfortable.
Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.