Yes, one person can make a difference

Several years ago in a discussion with a colleague after a typical day in the office, a brief snippet of our conversation has stayed with me and inspired much reflection. Discussing the many issues in the world around us which we’d like to see change, a world more socially and economically just and fair, I declared my own desire to make the world around me just a bit better. Whether that difference be at a community or national level wasn’t important; making a difference to the lived experiences of others was what drove me, even if it was on a seemingly small scale.

His response? ‘If you help just one person, you have succeeded, no? You have after all changed the world for the better for at least one person.’

So, so simple. And, so, so true.

Both before and since that after-work conversation and revelation, I’ve thought often about what one person can do to make the world a little better. A little brighter. I’m perhaps in equal measure hopelessly naïve and optimistic enough to believe that one person can and often does make a difference. But, it wasn’t until that conversation several years ago that I stopped worrying about how many people or how large the impact was (something which my day job placed priority on — the number of people reached rather than how much better life was for one person). Yet, one person’s world is still ‘a world’. And, perhaps by helping that one person, others’ lots would improvd as well.

However seemingly insignificant the gesture may be, a single act of kindness, a random bit of support extended to another can create good. From holding a door open to buying a meal for someone who is hungry to clothing a stranger to standing up and speaking for those who have no voice, no act is too small. No act is too insignificant. And, perhaps, those changes and improvements to an individual’s ife can mushroom out as ripples on the water—one person can help another can help another and so on until an entire community benefits.

Like I said, hopelessly optimistic. (It beats the alternative!)

But, what of the more significant, larger acts? Do they take a village or can they be accomplished through the actions of an individual on his/her own?

A single person has made an enormous difference with an amazing impact, as evidenced by Jadav Payeng.

Since 1979, this one man has been planting saplings and growing a forest in Brahmaputra, India. Growing a forest. These saplings have transformed a barren, eroding landscape into a lush, green habitat for various creatures, including elephants, tigers and vultures, which returned to the region in 2012 after a 40-year absence.

Talk about seeing the forest for the trees…

If a single man can create a forest, imagine the possibilities of the seemingly small and insignificant actions we each want to do and don’t for fear it will change nothing. Just as each seed may not on it’s own create a forest, each individual action may on its own seem unimportant and carry very little benefit. Yet, over time and collectively, imagine how much better the world could be? Imagine how much better it would be?

Sometimes, it’s quite alright to focus on that individual tree.


2 thoughts on “Yes, one person can make a difference

  1. My comment is a step to the side of yours… I am probably not as dreamy-eyed as you are, дорогая рыбка, so my pursuit of helping people is much, much more down to earth. Here’s my story: I hear from a number of college-age kids that they want to help others, so they choose a medical profession where they can help directly to make a difference in person’s life. Given that they come from Russian families and know math above the 99th percentile of American kids, I am trying to argue them into taking biostatistics, where they can help thousands and millions of people by properly organizing medical research and clinical trials, or bioinformatics, or some other math-heavy semi-medical research area. They want to help one person at a time, like you do; I must be missing the concept with my pursuit of greater availability of statisticians (and yes, the U.S. is about 10,000 statisticians short now, so I do have a selfish professional interest in having a better pool of applicants next time we are looking to hire 🙂 ).

    • Apologies for the delayed response. Better late than not at all, I suppose. 🙂

      I love this thinking. Honestly, I don’t know that I am as ‘dreamy-eyed’ as I once was. When I was in grad school and taking classes like biostats, my intent was to help ‘everyone’. Now, after much experience, etc., my ambitions are much more muted, I’d say.

      This is all just to say that I actually agree with you completely. Why not train young professionals to use their superior mathematical skills to do good. If it satisfies a professional interest, it may be selfish, but it’s an altruistic form of selfless selfishness, IMHO. (Keep up the great work!) x

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.