John Francis became a UN Goodwill Ambassador (yes, a real title) in the most unlikely way - he stopped talking and started walking. His walking took him all over the United Stares and parts of South America. It all started after he witnessed the devastating effects of an oil spill in San Francisco Bay 1971. He gave up on motorized transportation. The he got so sick of arguing with people -- maybe do do the same -- that he then gave up talking. He remained silent for 17 years.
By the time I saw him addressing an audience of architects at an Imaginit -hosted event in NYC, he had given up his vow of silence. He was warming the stage for an evening centered on sustainability and Autodesk's tools to help architects get in touch with their inner environmentalist. As Dr. John Francis' message was decidedly anti-technology, it was appropriate that a canned PowerPoint presentation suffered technical difficulty. Undaunted, he strolled onto the stage strumming a banjo.
He told how he had no idea what he wanted to accomplish back when he first started walking. Along the way, he actually acquired a Masters degree, then a PhD, even led a discussion group while a TA -- all without talking.
Eventually, John realized his self-imposed silence and transportation limitations were a "prison." Having learned much from listening and travelling all those years, he was eager to spread the knowledge. His first words "Thank you all for coming" raised a "Hallelujah" from a relieved mother and made him spin around -- he didn't recognize his own voice or where it was coming from.
Takeaway: John was recruited by a US Coast Guard commission on oil spill regulation, thereby putting him in a position to prevent the very sort of thing that got him all riled up. Had he not undertaken the walking path, would he have been able to have as much impact? Do the right thing and paths and opportunities will open up, he says.