He's only 11 years old, but Birke Baehr wowed a large audience with his speech on "What's Wrong with our Food System and How We Can Make a Difference."
Birke sees through corporate efforts that aim to maneuver kids into persuading their parents to buy brightly disguised junk food cereal. Citing genetically-engineered seeds, he sees the "dark side" of our industrialized food system. "Creepy" is the word he used to describe this process of making food that "causes cancer in lab animals." He mentions pesticides, irradiation, and use of petroleum products to prepare overused soil for additional food seed planting.
How does he know this? He researched by reading, speaking with farmers, and watching documentary films.
What a profound consciousness this young man has. "How can I change? How can I change these things?" he asks. Although Birke used to aspire to being an NFL football player, he now wants to be an organic farmer -- so he'll "have a greater impact on the world."
Eleven years old.
And this is what he said to the packed house, "I want you to know we can all make a difference... by making different choices..."
I know I have said it before but America's Founding Fathers had it right, and they paved a path for us to follow.
In 1706 when he was only 15 years old, Benjamin Franklin was prohibited from writing a letter to his brother's newspaper, so he began writing under a pseudonym, Mrs. Silence Dogood.
At 20 he made a list of 13 virtues. By his own account, he only worked on one virtue per week and admitted he sometimes fell short. But Franklin said he became a better person for trying. Of the 13, two stand out to me:
"Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation."
"Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates."
At 21 he created the Junto, a group of "like-minded aspiring artisans and tradesman who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community." Since books were expensive at that time, in order to share their knowledge Franklin conceived of the first subscription library. He also created one of the first American volunteer firefighting companies.
Although he invented the lightening rod and bifocals, among other things, he never patented his inventions, writing his autobiography, "As we enjoy great advantage from the intentions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours and this we should do freely and generously."
He is credited with "paying it forward," the concept of passing on to others the good that's been done to you.
One of the most important things he realized is that it's never too late for each of us to transform ourselves.
Although Franklin owned slaves early in his life, after a change in consciousness, he became one of the most outspoken abolitionists, and then President of Pennsylvania's Antislavery Society.
Whether we look ahead or look back, there have always been young leaders who make an impact on society. They look deep inside themselves and ask the same questions Ben and Birke asked, "How can I change? How can I make a better society?"
Some of you have written me to let me know what you've been doing on these accounts and that's great. But not all actions need to be large or need to be made public. It's enough to make a small shift within and a small action in the world. Collectively these have a huge effect.
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