I didn’t see who slipped in behind me until the elevator doors had closed.

My senses took in the scene faster than my brain could process. A case of beer, the smell of weed, a middle-aged man making nervous small talk with me. I searched the teenage girl’s face, begging her eyes to meet mine, but they stayed glued to the floor.

The unlikely pair got off the elevator one floor below me.

I kept thinking about her and felt sick with sadness. I couldn’t sleep. At the time, I didn’t know about human trafficking hotlines, so I called the front desk. All they did was apologize for disturbing my stay.

Without a plan to help this young girl craft a new future, I didn’t know what would have kept her from stepping back onto that same elevator the next night, even if the hotel staff had displayed a little more compassion.

One year later, I was driving down a main road in the middle of the day when another scene came into view, piece by piece. A woman’s legs kicking out of the passenger side of a dark green truck and a man standing over her, holding her down, his fist pulled above his head. I was on the phone with my dad at the time, who told me to hang up and call the police.

I don’t know where either of those women are today, but they left an open wound of compassion in my heart for women under the violent manipulation of power. Those experiences lacked closure, sending me on a journey of learning how to wield my influence on behalf of women like them. They put faces to statistics. Faces stripped of their dignity and inherent sense of value. Even as I long for the girl on the elevator’s eyes to meet mine, my heart aches for ways I could be a dignity restorer and revealer.

While drilling water filters into buckets in Nicaragua, I saw how the lack of jobs in under developed communities could rob people of their zest for life. Having work we can be proud of and the satisfaction of using our gifts and talents are wired into us as humans.

I began searching for companies that employ people in poverty, give jobs to women who’ve been rescued from sex trafficking and give communities premiums to build schools, hospitals or invest in further leadership training. Becoming conscious of the painful realities in our world would be paralyzing if we thought for a minute we could change everything. We can’t.

But we can change a lot of little somethings along the way and be awakened to the idea that it all matters. The coffee we buy, the clothes we wear, the people we choose to love or not. It all matters.

I recently toured an ethical t-shirt manufacturing facility. One woman looked up from her sewing machine, met my eyes and nodded with a closed mouth smile.

I imagined it was her.

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