11/15/2013 06:40 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Which Way Would You Run?

There is an advertisement for the Marines that has the slogan, "Which way would you run?" I had heard this same question asked recently by a clergyman in a sermon who was talking about the Boston Marathon bombings and it has occurred to me that this has become a pivotal question in our society.

When a great challenge faces us, which way do we run? At the time of the Marathon bombings, in the split second of decision making, many people ran away in fear. It is the natural human reaction. But a few heroes ran into the maelstrom, such as Joe Andruzzi, who, ignoring his own well-being and injury rushed in to help a man who was seriously injured by the blast. And then after depositing him at an aid station, he ran back to rescue others.

What makes someone run to the danger and others run away from it?

Triveni Acharaya is someone who continually takes on the greatest of challenges rather than turning away from them. Despite threats of violence and the mysterious death of her husband, she continues to help hundreds of girls who are victims of human trafficking.

Another example is Chaeli Mycroft, who looks for bigger and bigger challenges despite being wheelchair bound having been born with cerebral palsy. She sees her disability as a unique opportunity to speak worldwide as an "ability activist" working to create a global community that accepts and embraces disability. Next stop -- Mount Kilimanjaro.

Or, Susie Krabacher, who is so committed to the children of Haiti that even when faced by total natural and man-made disasters she refuses to give up.

Which way would you have run if you had been at that finish line in Boston?

When Andruzzi was asked about his heroic acts he said something like, "I am not a hero. The people who crossed the finish line and ran straight to the triage tents to give blood and tend to the fallen, they were the heroes." Yet he continued to run into the danger, not away from it.

I still think Andruzzi is a hero. As is C. Mead Welles, who saw a little boy being dragged on a garbage can lid because he was missing limbs. And instead of just walking away, he began A Leg to Stand On.

And Lauren Bush Lauren, who saw so much hunger and poverty close-up as a spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Programme that she began FEED.

The Marines' use of the tag line "which way would you run" is not some Madison Avenue hype. Our Marines have always been the ones to run into the fray, whether it be Iwo Jima to the Inchon Reservoir, from Guadalcanal to Helmand Province. That is what has defined the Marine Corps.

Which way would you run? The World of Children® Award has now found 100 heroes since our founding 16 years ago. Those people we have honored, both children and adults, have never wavered. They have run toward the challenge -- not once, not twice, but again and again -- often showing total disregard for their own well-being simply for one reward: the smile of a child.

We make choices every day, choices that millions do not have. We can get up in the morning and hurry off to work without so much as a sideways glance at the people around us. Or like World of Children® Award honorees, we can look back, glance sideways, and see the needs of so many languishing in the shadows of our good fortune. What should our response be? Run toward or run away?

George Bernard Shaw wrote, "We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future."

Now it is our turn to choose. The easy path is to turn away and go home unaffected by what you see. The tough path is to look back over your shoulder, glance sideways and see those less fortunate and RUN towards them with your time, your skill, your wealth.

That is why we honor these heroes every year. Every day they run toward the challenge, not away from it. Pope Francis recently said, "True charity takes real courage." The challenges are great and it is easy to get into vapor lock when we see the enormity of the needs. But the only way to make a real difference is one little hand by one little hand and one little heart by one little heart.