What Difference Can I Make?

People wonder about the impact they have on the world, on their country, their community, their workplace, and even with their friends and family.  They ask the question of what kind of difference they make in all kinds of situations from the mundane to the extraordinary, the introspective to the altruistic, the local to the global.

Does it really matter if I wear Vineyard Vines or Time and Tru?  What difference does it make if I buy my book at Midtown Scholar or order it from Amazon?  What difference can it make if I eat the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup instead of the kale salad just this one time?  What possible difference does it make if I call in sick and take a day for myself?  Does it make a difference if I lie to the teacher for my kid, if he did his homework or not?  

Can I make a difference when I know someone is breaking a law?  Can I make a difference in corporate culture when I blow the whistle or should I just shut up?  Does my vote make a difference?

What difference can just one person make in eliminating hunger?  I’m just one person, what kind of difference could I possibly make in ________?  You fill in the blank.

There are a number of reasons why I ask this question of myself.  At times it is because I want to justify the convenience of doing something the easy way or of not doing something else at all.  Sometimes—okay most of the time—it’s because I really want the peanut butter cup so I’m convincing myself that it won’t matter.  If I want to rationalize my behavior when I know what I’m doing isn’t quite right, I’ll resort to “what difference will it really make” or the ever-popular “everyone else does it.”  There are occasions when it is asked out of fear. There could be a price to pay. I’m sure I can’t stop the bully, change the way America does business, or make a real difference in the injustices and calamities facing us by shouting that the emperor has no clothes.  I’m just one person after all.

Then there is the defeatism evident in the question.  How can I, just one person, make a difference? “I’m just one person after all” morphs into “I’m just one insignificant person…One puny person…One person no one notices or pays attention to anyway.”  

I get swept up in the lies that I don’t make a difference.  There are days I would bet my last dollar on the validity of that statement.  Those are usually the days when I am wallowing in depression and self-pity.  On those days I believe that no one would even notice if I fell off of the face of the earth so I couldn’t possibly have an impact on anything or anyone.  On those days I believe that the world is so screwed up that there’s no hope for solving a tiny problem so there’s no sense in bothering with major issues.  

However, when I am feeling more sane I become determined to try.  When I feel like my voice is too small to make a difference, I look for inspiration.  If you too are looking for some inspiration to keep going, keep trying in small ways, keep striving for big things, I have some things to recommend for you.

The first stop I want you to make is to watch two videos by Andy Andrews that I would recommend.  The first is The Butterfly Effect and the second is a story about Joshua Chamberlain in the Battle of Gettysburg.  (After you watch them, you can read the picture book of the first one called The Kid Who Changed the World and read the book The Traveler’s Gift where you’ll find more stories like the one of Joshua Chamberlain.) Each of these are stories showing that you never know where your influence might spread.  In addition to this video of The Butterfly Effect, you could also read Ray Bradbury’s story “A Sound of Thunder.”

The next video is one about doing what you can where you are. “The Starfish Story” is the perfect story for a bit of encouragement. When I feel that world hunger is too big a problem to tackle, I remember the words of Edward Everett Hale who said, “ I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”  I may not be able to feed all of those who are hungry, but I can do my part here in my community.  I can make a difference to someone.

I’m one of those people who attempt to make a difference by writing letters to my Congressmen and my Senators in the Pennsylvania legislature and the U.S. Congress, the Governor of Pennsylvania, and the President of the United States.  I even write to Senators from other states!  Most of the time I don’t feel like these letters do anything but allow me to get something off my chest.  However, I feel that it is important to stand up and say what I think.  It is vital that people speak truth to power.  If we run and hide out of fear or resignation, we acquiesce.  Speaking up to those in power is a lesson we first heard as children in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”  Take a few minutes here for storytime.  And later read Peter H. Reynold’s picture book Say Something.

And finally go back to listen to Andy Andrews. (Can you tell he’s one of my favorites?)  I love what he says in “Putting the Boys to Bed.”  

Each of us can make a difference.  There are statistics that show how a few votes can turn an election.  Throughout history we see the old adage is true.  The only thing that allows evil to win is when good people refuse to get involved and do something.  Mother Teresa summed it up beautifully when she said, “Never worry about numbers.  Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”

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