With such huge global problems, how can one person make a difference?
With such serious issues to resolve in the world right now, I sometimes hear people say that there’s ‘not much they can do’ to make a difference. The problems are huge and, well, what can one person do?
I can understand that sentiment. Sometimes we can feel powerless to do anything about the big things that need addressing. It can seem as though we have no control.
However, it’s actually impossible not to make a difference.
The movements started by people such as Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, etc. are widely known. But it’s not just well-known people who make a difference – and it’s not just the stories that make the headlines that count.
Everything starts with a thought, an idea, a single action
Everything we do makes a difference one way or another, positive or negative. One thing always leads to another, and the ripple effect of every single action changes the future.
One night in 2012 a 24-year-old Kenyan man, Omari Anthony Nyaega, saved 35 orphans against a violent machete attack at his mother’s orphanage.
In 2020 in Virginia, USA, school librarian Kelly Passek had the idea to get books delivered by drone to children’s doors during the coronavirus lockdown.
During the Holocaust, Irena Sendler smuggled and saved 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto.
Imagine what all of those children have gone on to do in the world
…and it’s because of one action from one individual at one point in time.
None of these change-makers was well-known until they had the idea that made them take action.
I’m reminded of the 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, with James Stewart: an angel shows the main character, an ordinary man called George Bailey, how terrible life for people in his town would have been if he’d never existed.
Every single thing each one of us does makes a difference in one way or another.
Can one person make a difference in the world?
From the moment we each wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed, we have the opportunity to affect countless lives – family, friends, colleagues, strangers in the street and people right across the world. We can do it simply by showing up as our best selves.
We can’t possibly know the full positive impact we can have on those around us and on the planet. But if we simply do what we can do today, the fingerprints and footprints we leave in the world can take on a momentum of their own.
As Steve Jobs said, we can “put a dent in the universe”.
Tiny moments and brief conversations can turn into major change
Back in 2001 a friend of mine shared with me a simple insight and nugget of wisdom that subsequently changed the whole course of my life. It was a tiny moment, almost a throw-away comment, but it opened my eyes to something I’d not realised before.
It’s the same for everyone. Everything we do, say, write, buy, throw away, avoid, share, learn – all the choices we make every single day – they change the future. How we listen, who we help, who we support… Each person whose day is different today because of you, will have a different tomorrow.
We can share an idea about something – or our experience with a particular issue.
We can stand up for someone or for something we believe in.
We can show empathy towards someone, encourage someone, do something simple to protect our environment, pick up a piece of litter that then stops wildlife being harmed…
There are infinite possibilities.
We can grow food in our garden or on our balcony for a neighbour – or create a space for our neighbour to grow their own.
We can collect baby clothes for new parents in need.
We can send a message of support to someone we know who may feel afraid right now.
We can support someone in a battle for change.
Every flap of the butterfly wings has an effect – more than any of us can ever know. And it starts from the moment we get up in the morning.
We cannot not make a difference
What’s more, it’s the tiny moments of meaningful human connection each day – connection that crosses all physical, social, political and cultural borders – that will ultimately hold us all together as one human race.
So if we feel like there’s ‘not much we can do’, it’s vital to remember that if we’re doing what we can, we can worry less about whether we can make a difference and start adding up the huge differences we’re already making.
As Dr Jane Goodall says:
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”