Suppose there is a vote for a cause you believe in. 50,000 votes or so should be enough to swing the decision in your favour. You have just one vote to cast. Can you really make a difference?
Or, think of recycling. If you start making a little extra effort to recycle, you will improve your tiny impact on the world. But if the rest of humanity doesn’t change, the pollution and destruction of the Earth will continue unabated. Can your actions really mean anything?
Consider this, too. I’m vegan: I do it for the sake of animal welfare. People have told me, though, that that won’t change anything. The animal foods industries are so big; and I’m just one person. How can just one person expect to make a difference?
These kinds of thoughts have come into my head many times. It did take me some time to resolve them, but I think I finally have an answer that satisfies me.
My answer is this: I can expect to make a difference because I am not one person.
When I go to vote, I do not go to vote as Sophia Gubb. I go to vote as a part of the whole group of people who see things the way I do.
When I recycle, I don’t recycle as Sophia Gubb. I recycle as a part of the increasing section of humanity who is aware of their impact.
When I eat vegan, I don’t do so as Sophia Gubb. I eat vegan as a part of the very large worldwide vegan movement.
And those who see things the way I do, together are enough to make a difference.
Looked at from a certain perspective, this may seem self-evident, even a kind of platitude. And, you might say, it still doesn’t change the fact that my contribution alone doesn’t add up to much.
But there’s the thing: my contribution is not alone.
And I think seeing things in this way is anything but a mere platitude. It’s a shift in identity.
From the first point of view, I am just one person. I am small, disconnected, powerless.
From the second point of view, I am more than just Sophia Gubb; I am part of a whole group of people, a movement.
I believe the second is more accurate, actually. We are never just ourselves; we are always a part of something larger. We each probably could not survive alone, and certainly not do anything more than survive. So I think it’s vanity to have an identity which doesn’t include that which we are part of.
And by shifting your identity in this way, you can feel stronger. You don’t just have your strength as an individual, but also the strength of that which you are a part of.
If you ever really managed to feel like you were completely separate from the world around you, you would feel as powerless as a lone human trying to survive in the jungle. The fact that you can ask for help and depend on others means you know you are not alone. And the more you can do this — the more you can identify as part of the whole — the stronger you can feel.
And that’s how you can know your efforts are not futile when you recycle, or vote, or refuse animal foods. You are not just one person trying to make a difference. You are one of many. Your action is not just one action. It is one of many. And together it all means something.