Advertisers know it. When we see the experience of a single individual, we are more apt to respond than we are to numbers, even when the numbers are about huge catastrophes and even millions of people.
We light up to the smile of one face in a way that statistics telling us how many people are happy with some political event leave us unmoved. We respond to the face of a starving child the way we do not respond to a report that there are six million people starving in the latest flow of refugees fleeing from war, drought, or flood.
In other words, one person can often do what millions cannot.
And so when we are walking around in infuriated anguish and helplessness over the latest turn of events, we are kicking against the goad.
Because no, of course, we can’t do what millions of people can do together.
But millions of people together can’t do what only one person can do either.
I would even go further. It is only individuals that can really transform the life of another individual – a child, a friend, our partner, even a stranger.
As individuals we were not created to run the world, no matter how competent and right we so often are convinced we are. Actually, I might today think I’m right about a lot of important things, like whether we should bomb Syria over the use of chemical warfare, for instance. But I have been desperately wrong in the past about a lot of important things. I am pathetically grateful that I didn’t have the influence to change things the way I thought the world needed. And so I have to look at the serious possibility that I’m still wrong about a lot of things. As I look at the history of the world, as well, I’m not at all sure that those individuals who do seem to have made a big difference did more good than harm. Look at Hitler. Or Stalin, simply to top a long and painful list.
But the reality that we are all often wrong about the big things is not really the point. Even if we are right, we have not evolved to make the entire world a just and loving place. And if in my frustration I cavil at that fact, it is much harder to see that my fulfillment as a human being is on a more intimate scale.
It is hubris – or at least it is a mistaken understanding of what it is to be human – to be angry that I cannot do what millions together can do.
I do think I’m much more apt to make a positive contribution if I recognize that there are many important things that only I can do. And that if I don’t do them, they won’t get done.
I think there’s more joy, peace, and fulfillment in knowing that too.
The above meditation (or diatribe) was brought on by the pianomusicman. I would like to say he can be blamed for anything you don’t like about this post, but I’m afraid I must take responsibility. He may, however, be responsible for the best of it.