Why bother? How one individual can make an impact.

3 years ago

One action leads to another, which leads to another, and another...

How can one individual make an impact? How often have we heard that it is pointless to help one member of one family in one village in Sudan? Our actions will have no substantive impact on the underlying regional conditions that make such suffering possible, so why bother? To hell with it, right?

Wrong.  How can one individual make an impact? The answer is both complicated and remarkably simple.

One planet, one village

The simple answer is that the planet is a village.  Global climate change recognizes no borders.  Horrific typhoons have killed scores of people in the Philippines and surrounding regions, devastating lives and the financial stability of one of the world’s most populous regions. Deadly strains of encephalitis, furiously developing immunities, E. Coli contamination, the AIDS epidemic – these recognize no boundaries.

Just one and a half hours away from the pulsating sounds of vibrant Miami is Haiti, where a 2010 cholera outbreak killed thousands of people.  We understand now that the virus was carried by Nepalese U.N. peacekeepers from 9,000 miles away. Nepal was never so close.  The world is indeed one village separated at most by a day of travel.

Consider the additional dimension of social connectivity, and the world practically lives with you.  The internet did not just engage the Arab Spring.  The Anatomy of a Modern Revolution says it best: a fundamental change in order is almost always the result of a mass of people rejecting the status quo, bonded by the desire for change.  The social network and the new powers of wired assembly make us individually and remarkably powerful in effecting that change.

Action breeds reaction

If we find that the simple answer is too grand or too poetic, then let’s take a look at the more onerous part of the answer.   Perhaps one of the reasons that news organizations such as RYOT have found so much traction is that it is possible to make a difference by embracing a slimmed down version of Newton’s laws of motion.  That is, every action is accompanied by an associated reaction.  You are the associated reaction; you may just not know it yet.

The number of hungry people is approximately 1 billion, and there are over 7 billion individuals on the planet.  The nourished outnumber the malnourished by an envious margin. If just 1 in 6 people made the simple act of helping one member of one family, hunger would be eradicated, for all intensive purposes.

In 2005, an estimated 100 million people lacked housing.  Given that it is perfectly acceptable for multiple people to live under one roof, it would take just 1 in 350 people to extend their home to provide shelter for those living without.  Homelessness would then be rendered the least of the planet’s worries.

Perhaps the complexity lies in the fact that the new world requires each of us individually to take a course of action.  Conservative commentator George Will said recently that the rapid acceptance of issues such as gay marriage is largely the result of a dying opposition.  And he really meant that the opposition (i.e., the elderly) was dying!  We have the power; we have the tools; and the world is swiftly being refilled – like a new batch of movie popcorn – with fresh, motivated, aware and active people.  What seemed impossible in the past is now possible.  This is no pet rock, no Rubik’s cube enthusiasm: this is the new world.

How can the number of individuals with mobile phones outnumber those in possession of a toilet? How is it that hundreds of millions of people lack access to clean water? That tens of thousands languish in prison simply for expressing their opinions? How can this be when we can do something about it? We are no longer one, but a community of individuals living in one village.  The past decade has proven that one person at a time can add up to a formidable force bonded by the desire for change.  And from that we become the news.

Gareth, a business entrepreneur and activist, has served on boards such as The Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research and The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, among others. His endeavors have brought him audiences with the Dalai Lama, the Rev. Billy Graham and Queen Elizabeth II.  But most important are his education initiatives in first nation Inuit communities of northern Canada, as well as in Laos and Haiti.

RYOT Note: Visions like Gareth’s are essential to making our world a better place. It’s easy to take the defeatist route and believe that as individuals our actions are worthless. But the truth is that every action makes a difference. This simple principle is what RYOT is built upon. Whatever impact you help us make–humble or grand–will hopefully lead toward positive change. Become a part of this domino effect by donating to the RYOT foundation, or by sharing this story.

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