Winter Slade wanted something special for her 7th birthday. In lieu of presents, she thought it’d be cool to have people donate to a charity geared towards protecting endangered animals.

Sounds like a sweet thing to do, right?

While excitedly sharing her plan with friends, she overheard several of her friends’ parents dismiss the plan with a different “s” word. They thought it was “stupid.”

Sure, the amount of money she might be able to raise would be trivial. And perhaps most of the money raised would go towards the charity’s administrative costs. But Winter was crushed.

Thankfully, there’s a happy ending to the story, but I suspect there are a lot of Winters in the world whose charitable, philanthropic, artistic, innovative, or entrepreneurial ideas are not cultivated. And at what cost? What cool inventions, services, changes, discoveries, and works of art might we be missing out on in 10 or 20 years, because a child internalized the message that their ideas might be “stupid”?

But what are we to do?

It only takes one

The literature suggests that there are certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of juvenile delinquency – variables such as concentration problems, early aggressive behavior, level of parental supervision, and so on.

But there are also protective factors which offset the risk factors and decrease the likelihood of delinquency. One of these is having a connection with a positive adult figure. Even a single connection with such a person can be a difference maker.

You may never have been an “at-risk” youth, but did you ever had a moment in your life where you doubted yourself, where you began questioning your abilities, your worth, your choices? Do you remember how it felt to have someone in your life who believed in you when nobody else did?

We all needed that person. And if we weren’t lucky enough to have that person, we can think of a time when we wish we did.

Caine’s arcade

Nirvan Mullick is one such person. He stumbled across a 9-yr old boy named Caine, who had built an elaborate game arcade (out of cardboard!) in the front of his dad’s used auto parts store.

Most people walked by, perhaps took a quick glance at the arcade, but didn’t give it a second thought.

Somehow, Nirvan was different. What’s cool is that he saw the spirit behind the creation. That enthusiasm and conviction in one’s self, which if cultivated, might be far more important in the long run than the various flaws and shortcomings that are much easier to get hung up on.

Nirvan simply took an interest in Caine and his work, and his efforts have changed this boy’s life and future. Not to mention the lives of other youngsters who will be touched by the foundation now established in Caine’s name. And by extension, all of us whose lives will be changed as a result of coming into contact with Caine, his story, and the future efforts of his young fellow entrepreneurs.

Watch the short film that started it all:

Take action

1. Reinforce enthusiasm

Wouldn’t it feel great to be that person in someone’s life who inspires or emboldens them to make a difference?

You might already have a Winter or Caine in your circle of influence. A child, college student, or young adult who wants to make a change in the world, do something that has never been done, or create something that doesn’t exist.

They don’t necessarily need any dramatic show of support (i.e. you don’t have to make a film about them), but see what happens if you respond with genuine enthusiasm to the spirit behind their idea, rather than dismissing the idea because it’s not fully fleshed out (case in point, my 6-yr old’s grand scheme to eliminate dog poop from the streets of NYC). Watch what happens when the message is “Yes, you can make a difference” (though you might have to tweak this or that, or try harder, etc.) instead of “You can’t make a difference, so it’s pointless to try.” It’s interesting how sometimes the smallest things can make a big difference.

This is not about accepting sub-par work, or encouraging untenable business plans; this is about reinforcing the spirit behind a young person’s efforts to make our world a better place to live.

2. Watch The Last Lecture

Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He was dying of cancer and gave one last lecture, in which he spends a good bit of time talking about enabling the dreams of others (in addition to achieving one’s own). There are some great lessons contained here, and it remains quite a popular video – nearly 15 million views on YouTube.

Watch [wp_lightbox_prettyPhoto_anchor_text_video link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo” width=”620″ height=”450″ text=”The Last Lecture” description=”The Last Lecture”].

The one-sentence summary

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.”  ~Benjamin Disraeli (former British Prime Minister)