I Dare You

07/18/2011 12:42 pm ET | Updated Jun 13, 2013

I just attended ACT II, a biannual gathering of entrepreneurial leaders from across the Aspen Institute's global network of fellows. The theme for this year was "Stepping Up" -- i.e. how to use our creativity, energy, and resources to make a big dent in the world. I was asked to open the luncheon on Saturday with some poetry. This definitely rocked my world.

I began by reciting excerpts of T.S. Elliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, in which the speaker leads the listener through a purgatory of existential wanderings, what-ifs, and hints of an overwhelming question yet to be revealed. But the answer to how should we presume and where should we begin -- these and all other answers -- are left to Elliot's audience. Just as, ultimately, each of us must face our own inner doubts, fears, indolence, and disillusionment, in the course of our wonderings, before deciding "Do I Dare Disturb the Universe."

I finished with a recitation of Rilke's Dove that Ventured Outside, which also squeezes the universe into a ball and rolls it towards the question of how boldly to live and courageously to act. It suggests that tenderness and satisfaction can only come when one has flown beyond the safety and security of our own personal borders. It is in some way a love poem, but one much broader than a simple romantic tale. I hear it as a story of humanity, and a challenge for us to win back each other's hearts by venturing out, stepping up, disturbing the universe, and working for something greater than what we see in front of us.

As we arch ourselves across the vast abyss of our days and ways, what can we do to impact the lives of others? Are we content to measure out our lives in coffee spoons or will we give more generously of our time, our capacity, our curiosity? As an old friend used to say: you don't have to be a rock star to change the world. Action over entropy. The choice is yours.

Ah the ball that we dared, that we hurled into infinite space,
Doesn't it fill our hands differently with its return;
Heavier by the weight of where it has been.

Here's a good place to start choosing more consciously.