It has become a cliche to say that one person can make a difference, but the life of Mahatma Gandhi confronts us with the enduring truth of that statement. It is impossible to say exactly what moved people to revere and follow him and be imprisoned and beaten on his behalf by the thousands. No doubt his ever-gentle demeanor had a hand in that. His perpetual grace and joy, even in the face of terrible hardship, surely won some hearts and minds.
Before she even turned 40, Florence Nightingale was the darling of the British public, the heroine of the Crimea. She could have sailed home to England and comfortably lived out her days. Instead she conducted a postmortem on every moment of her wartime service. She sought to broadcast her mistakes so everyone would understand what happens in unsanitary medical facilities. One hundred and fifty years ago, the respect we now have for nurses and the intense training that nurses must undergo was nothing but a seed in Florence Nightingale's imagination.
What does the Dalai Lama's life teach us? Certainly, he is a sterling example of turning adversity into joyful service. But there is more to him than that. He is also a model of innovation and adaptation. He has taken the tenets of Buddhism and made them relevant to everyone. He has found commonalities in the teachings of Catholicism and Buddhism.