Just a few weeks ago, on Nov. 15, the world celebrated Steve Irwin Day, a day to honor a man whose lifelong commitment to wildlife conservation inspired millions of people all over the globe. He wasn’t a politician, a civil rights activist or a war hero, and yet he has a day that people across the globe celebrate in honor of him. How did a man from humble beginnings down under come to inspire so many people with his message of conservation? There are lots of other people from the past and present who dedicated their lives to conservation efforts like poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, primatologist Jane Goodall, conservationist Arthur Carhart and ornithologist Peter Scott, just to name a few. Yet, while their names may be memorable, none of their legacies eclipse the legacy Steve Irwin left behind.

While all of these activists left lasting impacts due to their passion for wildlife, few exuded enthusiasm the way Irwin did. He lived a life of unparalleled passion and excitement for what he loved. He spread his message with a joy that was infectious to everyone who came to know of him. As a kid, I watched his special The Crocodile Hunter” on Animal Planet every day after school at 4:00 p.m. Mentioning Irwin in circles of people my age is almost always met with shared excitement and stories about what they loved about him most.

Aside from being exuberant and passionate, Irwin was also personable. He was down-to-earth and spoke to his audience as a man who wanted us all to understand and love nature as much as he did. He would be in the presence of some of the most dangerous animals in the world, and with a huge smile on his face, he would explain, in accessible, engaging language, how these animals were made to serve a function and to protect themselves, the way even humans do. Spiders, snakes, sharks and, of course, crocodiles were commonplace on almost every episode of his show. He was able to show their beauty despite their common demonization.

When he faced the camera he made you feel as if you could and should protect the wildlife in your environment. He was a “Wildlife Warrior” on a campaign that could tug at the heartstrings of even the coldest of people. He believed in his message and dedicated his life in the kindest, most compassionate and honorable way by spreading his message to the masses. Irwin inspired the young animal conservationist inside of me. As a little kid, I saved baby birds, deeply loved my cat Muffie, and all the rest of our pets, and even once saved a two-legged grasshopper. I loved animals because Irwin inspired me to do so.

These days I find myself with another passion as well: politics. In the world of politics, I have found it easy to become bitter and hostile towards those with whom I disagree, but every time I think of Steve Irwin, I am reminded about the kind of life which left the biggest impact on me: a positive one. Without ever meeting him, Irwin made me feel that even the smallest contribution I could make in this world mattered. He made me believe that with passion, enthusiasm and kindness I could make an impact on those around me. That is why I believe to this day in spreading my own message in the same way. Just like Irwin, we all can be passionate in our advocation of whatever we care about the most. In a world of increasingly hostile partisan politics, for instance, where it is more common to bash the other side of the aisle than to make positive arguments for our own, we could all be a little bit more engaged in advocating with positivity for our own belief system. In a world where the news is constantly negative, we should spread positivity in the same way Irwin did. In a world where the condescending intellectual often reigns supreme, we should forget our high horses and speak humbly — making everyone feel like they can be a substantive part of the solution. That is why I encourage you to invest some time in studying the life of the world’s most famous wildlife conservationist — you should. He may just inspire you to let go of bitterness and to begin spreading your own message with the sort of positive enthusiasm he exuded every day of his life.

Abbie Berringer can be reached at abbierbe@umich.edu.

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