E pluribus unum – One From Many – Ben English

I don’t know what all the seven wonders of the world are but I know that Capitol Hill certainly is not one of them. At the same time however, I’m bemused as to why Capitol Hill actually isn’t one of them.

As we stood there, slowly acclimatizing to the scorching heat, adoring the person who invented air conditioning, our tour guide began to list off facts about a place which has become the centre of decision making in the world’s most powerful country. There are endless facts, myths and stories that I could regale to you about our tour of Capitol Hill but what struck me most about the tour was something so simple, yet so meaningful – so effective. Written above the arch of the breathtaking dome in Capitol Hill is the Latin motto; E Pluribus Unum meaning “Out of Many, One”. While this refers mainly to the unique nature of the United States, it was a motto that had an entirely different resonance with me.

Personally, I am fortunate to have taken part in many great projects over the last number of years, but out of those projects, I began to think about what makes WIP the one from many? In truth, as good as various other leadership and activism initiatives are, it is incredibly hard to find one without underlying principles of tokenism. The problem with tokenism is that it significantly reduces the impact of any learning experience. More importantly, as we get older, our personal goals and standards progress beyond a point where the customary photo call with a politician makes us feel like we are part of a process of change.

So what makes WIP different? As I spoke to someone from home about being part of this year’s class, they congratulated me on being selected as one of the 30 fantastic leaders that WIP had chosen. I was quick to inform them that they were under a misunderstanding. The Washington Ireland Program, in my opinion, does not consist of complete leaders. In fact, what makes WIP unique is that it picks those who have the potential to lead and gives them the tools, resources and support to maximise that potential and be the change they want to see in the world (I robbed that off Gandhi but I know he won’t mind). I remember applying for WIP last year, and being rather bemused that I didn’t even get an interview. That lesson in humility allowed me to realise that the day anyone thinks they are the complete leader, is also the day where they lose the potential to lead. Having had the privilege to have heard from the movers and shakers of Washington and the world in my first week in DC, I cannot begin to express how lucky I feel to be part of this program with people that constantly push you to be all you can be. The last thing that makes WIP different is determination. As great as I make this program sound, others know that it can be better and refuse to settle for the current status quo. Hearing the chair of the WIP Board, Kevin Sullivan discuss improving WIP and its structures only heightened my sense of admiration and actually got me thinking about areas of this program that can still be changed to allow it to maximise on the endless potential it possesses.

The second aspect of this insightful motto struck me as being related to the Class of 2012, it is being aware of where we have come from but far more importantly, where we are going. Many of the host families often explain the selection process to their neighbours at home and exclaim that this group of 30 were so carefully selected. While this may be true, I don’t think anyone on the Class of 2012 approaches this program with a sense of entitlement. I for one, take no shame in saying that I know there are people not in this class who are better than me but all I can do is enjoy this experience and squeeze it till the last drop. On that note, there is a challenge, not only to the Class of 2012 but to our generation as a whole – be the one from many.

It is with regret that I digress that I am part of a generation of keyboard warriors who articulate the best points from their keyboard and talk a great revolution (the irony in saying this through a blog has become apparent too). The challenge however, is to strive to be part of a process that impacts change directly, not through words, but through actions. Perhaps this ideal is best summarised by the words of Robert Kennedy who said, “Some see the world as it is and ask why? I see the world as it should be and ask why not”? With this in mind, I have no hesitation to say that this is a challenge I firmly accept- one program, one unique group, one great opportunity.