It can be hard to imagine how we can use our influence sometimes. We think influence rests solely in the hands of politicians, business leaders, award-winning artists, athletes, or, well in our social media focussed world, influencers. The influential weren’t always so influential though.
Take Marcus Rashford, a man who comes from a working-class background, whose mother had to provide for him and his four siblings on her own. Marcus trained as hard as possible to become the best footballer he possibly could be. After years of dedication to the sport, the fruits of his labour paid off and he now plays football professionally at Manchester United and is also part of the England National Team squad.
Along with the perks of becoming a professional footballer, Marcus gained a tremendous amount of influence, and in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to use it.
Marcus raised a staggering £20 million to tackle food poverty amongst school children during the earlier stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The deeply cynical may say that it was more than a publicity stunt, and frankly, I know what I’d say to them. However, he didn’t just use his own personal fortune to help those in need, he also used his influence.
Following the initial charity fundraise, Marcus went about writing an open letter to the UK government calling them to end child poverty across Britain. The next day, the government responded by changing its policies, allowing around 1.3 million children in the UK to have access to meals throughout the year.
Influence will always remain a powerful tool, but that does not mean it is reserved to the ultra-famous and immeasurably rich.
And I may hear you say “But how can I ever dream to be as influential as an international footballer”? Well, let us retell the story of Captain Tom.
As the pandemic began to hit the world in full force, and with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) overwhelmed by thousands of COVID-19 cases, one nonagenarian wanted to do his part so he decided to go for a walk.
Sir Thomas Moore, nowadays recognized across the world as Captain Tom, wanted to do his small part in helping combat the rampaging virus. His initial goal was to raise £1000 for NHS Charities Together over the course of the 25 days leading up to his 100th birthday on April 30th, 2020. The plan was that he would walk ten 25-metre lengths of his garden every day. And that was it, a brave idea for someone who needed a walking frame to walk with a humble yet compelling goal.
No one could have predicted how massive “Tom’s 100th Birthday Walk for the NHS” would become. In less than a month a single retired man, who during his lifetime had been an army officer, a managing director of a concrete company and an avid motorcycle racer, had successfully raised over £32.79 million for charity.
Captain Tom’s walk earned him the admiration of millions, a knighthood, and inspired people from around the world to raise money in fighting the pandemic. He wasn’t a politician, business leader, award-winning actor, or famous athlete, yet the influence he garnered in a very short span of time was immense and greatly helped the NHS in the fight against the coronavirus.
Both Marcus Rashford and Captain Tom used their influence to benefit others but, unfortunately, influence can also be used in far more negative ways.
As an example of negative influence, let’s take the rather easy target of the individuals posing as “political commentators” that make their home on Fox News. Among the biggest names I can list would be Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson who, between them, have a potential audience size of around 8.5 million viewers, and both whose individual net worth’s reach far into the millions. Overall, Fox News’ hosts speak to a large American audience.
However, the size of their audience does not mean that they use their influence to truly benefit anyone except for themselves and the political agendas they serve. They were prepared to use the world’s deadliest pandemic this side of the year 2000 to peddle baseless conspiracy theories, denigrate and undermine members of the media with opposing views by portraying them as “scare-mongers”, and do this all while praising and defending their idol President Trump.
Fox News has done an excellent job of weaponizing and abusing this reckless and unethical use of influence that ferments distrust and divides by putting profit before people.
This is why we need more people like Marcus Rashford and like Captain Tom; people who either use their influence for the betterment of humanity as a whole or who, without even knowing the potential influence they may have, strive to better the world anyway.
On November 22, we will be celebrating the Global Day of Influence for the second time – the reason we celebrate influence is so that we remember the importance it has in all our lives and at all levels. From a retired soldier raising however-much money for charity to journalist hacks who will market anything for a quick buck, influence is ever-present.
Influence permeates everything we do and think without us even noticing it most of the time, the real talent that we all have, and owe ourselves to develop, is the positive influence we can have on others. This is as true for individuals as it is for companies and organisations. We have a duty to influence others and each other with integrity, and it is crucial that we aspire to do so in an honest manner that will benefit society.