Can one person really make a difference in the world?

Can one person really make a difference in the world?

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?

Absolutely yes.

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.”


  1. Bob Howard-Spink 1 year ago

    Agree 100% Angela. Rather than view the world as too big a whole for me to influence. I prefer to think of the one person I can maybe influence then sharing my view with another and so on. Maybe post-covid we should turn our attention from “R” rate to “I” rate?

    • Author
      Angela Sherman 1 year ago

      I love the analogy Bob. Thank you. Influencing and spreading ideas one person at a time – it’s more powerful than it might seem. Here’s to the “I” rate!

  2. Jayelle 1 year ago

    I believe we can each make a difference in just how we live our lives. When we choose to be better people we become roll models. We may never know who we could have possibly changed or influenced but I am sure we have done so.
    People watch each other, we do not go through this life oblivious, so even changing our own behaviours towards a more positive lifestyle equals positive energy in our lives and the lives around us.

    • Author
      Angela Sherman 1 year ago

      That’s so true, Jayelle. People do watch – and we don’t always realise who we’re influencing or who’s observing. Good reminder. I love the positive vibe of your comment. Thank you!

  3. Steve McDaniel 1 year ago

    This is such an inspiring thought, and of course absolutely right. OK, Covid 19 is infectious but not as infectious as a smile or a laugh, or a good deed. Infection spreads exponentially, a concept that doesn’t come easily to the linear thinking human mind, so it’s been hard for people to understand how dangerous it actually is. Similarily, it may not be so easy to see how the one positive action that affects a very small number of people can inspire them to do the same and thus spread in the same way, and be equally as dangerous!!

    • Author
      Angela Sherman 1 year ago

      Hi Steve – I think you’re right. And I love the idea of the spread of positive actions being ‘dangerous’ – dangerous to the pain in the world. That’s a good thought. Thank you!

  4. Tina 1 year ago

    That’s a great article hon! I recently watched Hacksaw ridge’ – a moving film about a young man who joins the army as a conscientious objector, what he goes through and how in one night he saved 75 men who would have perished on the battlefield.

    It’s an interesting idea that just by being alive we make a difference. When in the depth of depression it can be hard to realise/accept that. I also think that this virus we are fighting might cause those stuck at home to wonder what they are going with their lives and if they can make a difference!

    Thank you for reminding me that every person is important and that every action or lack of action makes a difference. A couple of things sprung to mind while reading your article; doing small things can make a big difference but it’s good to remember that just existing can make a difference too.

    A row of standing dominoes can’t fall in a graceful pattern without each and every one. A chain isn’t a chain without each link. You can’t play a game or do a jigsaw without all the pieces. Simply by being/existing we are important.

    One final thought: My dog isn’t particularly affectionate, most think he he is aloof and it’s easy to forget he is even in the room sometimes. He doesn’t ask to go out, he doesn’t put his head on my lap or nuzzle me when I’m sad. He doesn’t play with balls or toys but without him my life would be reduced unimaginably. Because he exists I walk every day, I meet new people, I have an outlet for my love, I think about others. And he makes me laugh !!!! Keep up the good work xxx

    • Author
      Angela Sherman 1 year ago

      Hi Tina – thanks for mentioning Hacksaw Ridge. I’ve just watched the trailer and, wow, what an inspiring story. The main character was vital to the survival of the others – even though it seemed impossible – and that’s so true in your other analogies too: the dominoes, the chain and the jigsaw. I love those examples! I agree that in dark times it can be hard to see the difference we make but, as you say, by simply ‘being’ we are part of the ripple effect. And a furry friend is part of that too. 😉 Thanks so much for your thoughts and encouragement.

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