Editor’s note: John Kramer, vice president for communications at the Institute for Justice, won this year’s Thomas Roe Award, the highest award given by the State Policy Network for achievements in advancing free-market ideas. Kramer is from Sunapee, N.H. With his permission, we share his moving acceptance speech in the hope that it inspires others to challenge themselves, to overcome their fears and anxieties, and to learn and achieve more than they might think possible.
Chain of Inspiration
by John Kramer
In a tiny church in a tiny New Hampshire town, a Christian missionary from Africa delivered a plea for assistance.
“If we only had $200 for a row boat,” he said, “My mission could row across the lake where we live and we could bring the Word of God to those on the other shore—to the natives who have never heard the Gospel.”
In the congregation of that tiny church was a widow. She had been left with 9 children and no inheritance to speak of. She supported her family as a part-time public school teacher, helping kids with learning disabilities.
She had received her paycheck—an actual paper check back in those days—but she got it too late to deposit it. Back then, there were also these things called “banker’s hours.”
As the missionary concluded his talk, the ushers took up the collection. This widow opened her purse. Her kids looked over to see if she would direct a dollar their way to drop in the basket. Instead, she did something remarkable.
She took out that paycheck and endorsed it over to the church so this missionary could have the boat he needed to spread the Gospel.
Each of her kids panicked in the face of this act of charity—charity not given out of surplus, but out of genuine need.
How would they pay for food?
How would they pay for oil to heat their home with winter fast approaching?
Everyone in that family knew the daily hardships they already faced. They lived paycheck to paycheck. And here was their Mother giving away an entire paycheck—as an act of faith.
That woman—that widow—was my Mother, Therese Kramer.
I was her youngest. I want you to know that we did not go hungry. And we did not go cold.
The missionary left our church with the funds he needed for his boat—thanks to the widow’s mite.
But the story doesn’t end there. A couple from our parish—the Quinlans—learned about my Mother’s act of charity. They secretly paid for our entire heating bill that winter—an enormous sum compared to what my Mother had contributed. Because they wanted to remain anonymous, it took me 30 years to finally confirm it was the Quinlans who saved our family that winter.
So why do I donate paintings to worthy causes like State Policy Network or Christ House? Or work to build up those around me? Because I saw the example of my Mother. I saw the example of the Quinlans. Why has Shirley Roe created this award to honor her late husband? Because she saw Tom in action. She saw his values and his spirit, and she wanted Tom to inspire others for generations to come.
And that’s what I’d like to talk with you about tonight: The importance of that chain of instructive inspiration.
As I mentioned, I lost my father when I was very young. I was two-and-a-half. I never really knew him. But my Mother gave me a great piece of advice in the context of that loss. She said, “You may not have a father, but you have many father figures around you. Study them. Emulate them. Make their best traits your best traits.”
And that became a lifetime obsession for me. From my uncles, I learned the importance of a work ethic and always keeping your word. From my teachers, I learned the importance of studying history and civics and writing. From Chip Mellor—IJ’s first president—I learned by example the importance of staying true to your values and your vision.
From Clint Bolick—IJ’s other co-founder—I learned the importance of facing challenges with a joy-filled heart.
One day we faced an infuriating problem, and Clint told me, “Hey, we can solve these problems and be happy or we can solve this problem and be angry. I choose to be happy.”
What an instructive bit of inspiration for us all. You can choose to face your challenge—any challenge—with a happy heart. It is no wonder that Chip and Clint are each Roe Award Winners. I am truly honored to join their ranks.
When we challenge ourselves to take on the best qualities of others, we are harnessing a life-changing force. That ability . . . that willingness . . . to change is the secret to a rewarding life.
Think for a moment about the happy and successful people you know. Likewise, think about those who are chronically miserable and failing. Have you pieced together yet what separates those two groups of people? Nearly all of the difference is found in how you handle the fear of the unknown. It is the people who embrace that fear . . .who grow and learn and improve . . .who become better-equipped to take on whatever life throws at them.
The more you welcome that challenge to improve—drawing inspiration from others—the more you’ll experience the world around you. And the more you experience, the more you’ll think. And the more you think, the more you’ll learn. And the more you’ll learn, the fewer frustrations you’ll feel and the braver you will become.
It all starts with embracing that chain of inspiration—of recognizing in others the qualities you want in yourself, and then making them part of who you are. Happiness is found in learning; and learning—real and deep and true learning—can only come from action.
So keep the faith, and keep at it. Because it matters. Because your work matters.
Seek out inspiration from those around you. And live in such a way that you inspire others. We can’t all be the missionary rowing across that lake. Nor should we be. We each have our own critical role to play in this movement.
Whether we’re marketers or attorneys or administrators or policy analyst or any other role in the Free Market Movement, we can ensure those around us have the resources and support and example they need to succeed, to spread the word of freedom.
Now let’s go get ’em!