The Power of One

In this age of social media, trying to reach people and have an impact can feel like a lost cause. How ironic that it would feel this way! Here we have all these apps and all these different channels, which give everyday people the potential to reach more viewers/listeners than ever.

The potential. I guess that’s where the “lost cause” feeling comes in. In an age of rockstar bloggers who get a million Likes and are constantly being jetted around the world to give speeches and endorse products, and are making a huge impact, a blogger who only reaches five or seven people (or one person, or sometimes zero) is pretty much a failure, don’t you agree?

But wait! That’s a trick question. First of all: Nobody reaches zero people. There’s no such thing. We all end up reaching at least one other person. It may not happen instantly but pretty much everything we do has some kind of impact.

And second of all, as wonderful as online channels are, good old low-tech communication has not lost its power. Back in the days when my job was to promote permaculture design courses in Austin, and I had beaten the online channels to death, sometimes I’d go out on foot and tack flyers to utility poles! (And if I didn’t have even a few bucks to make copies, which sometimes I did not) I would individually hand-draw the flyers. Yes it was time-consuming, but my time was not worth much in monetary terms, and anyway I like to draw. Well, what do you know, those utility-pole flyers ended up bringing in quite a few students!

Third of all, and perhaps most important: Sometimes all it takes to make a crucial difference is for one person to reach one other person!

One night some years back, a disillusioned environmentalist of my acquaintance suddenly had his hope rekindled, by stumbling on the permaculture design movement. He heard about permaculture serendipitously: He happened to be listening to some obscure late-night radio show while he was working aboard a commercial fishing boat. Actually I don’t know that it was at night; it could just as well have been in the daytime. But the lonely late-night airwaves is how I always picture it: sketchy reception; one voice traveling out over the choppy dark sea, reaching into the ears of a person who just happened to be fertile ground for the ideas being presented.

Maybe the radio show reached many other people; maybe it reached only that one guy. What I do know is that the one person I know who did hear that radio show has ended up sharing permaculture design knowledge with probably thousands of other people.

A one-to-one transmission can feel flimsy, particularly in this day and age of so many channels and such wide reach. But that “one” can be all it takes to sprout many thousands of seeds.

I mention this because I know a lot of you are working hard to make a difference in the world and in your communities. Don’t get derailed by someone else’s stellar numbers. Be happy for that person, be grateful to them for doing their part, and bring your attention back to your own piece of the work.

You might find it helpful to recall examples of how the “Power of One” has influenced the course of your own life. Think of one person who reached you and made a huge impact. (Don’t limit yourself to people you’ve met in person or heard “live.” Some of my strongest influences have been books or songs or paintings from hundreds of years ago!)

The above advice is for myself also, as I venture down intricate and obscure pathways where I may reach only one other person, and maybe not in this lifetime. No matter! Here I go, here we all go.