You are an incredibly influential individual. The choices you make, big and small, have direct and consequential effects on the world as we know it. You are burdened with immense power and subsequently an immense responsibility. You– specifically, you.
This isn’t a line ripped from a superhero origin story, nor is it an obnoxiously patronizing, new-age, ‘everybody-gets-a-medal’ pep-talk.
It’s a statistical truth.
Let’s talk about the Power of The Individual and more importantly, the Responsibility that entails.
Power of The Individual
It is easy to assume that our actions and choices don’t harbor significant, real-world consequences. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our choices, even the little ones, matter. Although, most people don’t recognize that. Imagine the ballot box in a polling booth. The ballot box is the very manifestation of meaning in our choices. Our choice at the ballot box helps bring about direct consequences, that is easy enough to see. Regardless, a staggering amount of people have become disenfranchised, feeling that their vote is inconsequential. If so many people don’t see the meaning and consequence of their vote in the ballot box, imagine how many don’t recognize the weight that their daily choices carry. However, all of our choices have real-world implications in this game of life.
It’s a game of numbers-
Dunbar’s Number, if we’re being specific about it. Dunbar’s Number emerged in the 1990’s, pioneered by Robin Dunbar, and it suggests a cognitive limit on the number of people we can hold meaningful relationships with at any given time. The theory proposes that human-beings can hold approximately 150 meaningful relationships (there being a drop in comfort and quality in 151 and beyond). We’re limited by our cognitive capacity, time, etc. So while the average person is likely to meet and interact with well over 150 people in their lifetime, only 150 of them are going to remain relevant in any given person’s life.
Where am I going with this? We’re social creatures and we constantly impact and influence the people around us (both in our brick-n-mortar communities as well as in our social networks). I talk a bit about these influences in a previous post, ‘A Guide To Friendship: Navigating Shifting Social Circles’. These influences have ripple effects. For instance- Let’s say I skipped breakfast today. Big deal, right? Well, it ended up making me grumpy and as a result I was rude to a whole slew of people that day, which in turn ruined some of their moods as well, etc. They say positivity and negativity are infectious. It’s true.
Back to Dunbar’s Number. If we each hold meaningful connections with up to 150 people, and they hold connections with another 150 people (of course, there will be some overlap but bear with me for sake of argument) that means our influence is one person, one ripple, away from 22,500 people. Add another person into the mix and that number skyrockets to over 3 million people. Of course, in practice it doesn’t necessarily pan out that drastically. There is bound to be overlap and we obviously don’t encounter everyone we have a meaningful relationship with in day to day life. In actuality, despite the limit being 150, the average person only connects with 10-25 people enough to deem them trustworthy. Assuming we were only working with 10 people, that’s still only 9 people, a mere 9 ripples away from a million. Additionally, in a reality where our interactions are augmented by social media, the average individual boasts an impressive, albeit unconscious, influence.
(With the addition of social media, our capacity for influence increases four times over, with the average person having a social media influence spanning roughly 600 people, according to the New York Times).
The example I used earlier, about negativity and positivity, it’s a lighthearted one. Ideas, religions, knowledge all started at a singular point (even if we can’t identify it). I’m not implying that the average person in lined up to be a prophet or a game-changing tech mogul, but I am saying that the people we become, the values we embody, and what we stand for ripple outward and have genuine consequences on the landscape of the present. Moral of the story: EVERYTHING we do is matters- and that’s a responsibility we all carry.
Ideas and choices spread infectiously, something we should be well acquainted with in the age of Covid-19. The actions we take undeniably ripple outward, so it is necessary that we act as the best forms of ourselves- that we live to our fullest and most positive potential. Attacking this is hard, and achieving our potential maximum is an impossible task (that we must still strive for). In the face of that painful battle of self improvement and realization, many people choose, instead, to take an easier path.
Many people say, It doesn’t matter.
Just because we are able to rationalize destructive choices with ourselves doesn’t negate the fact that we are acting as a node in a network. The ideas that this only impacts me …or… in the end, none of it really makes a difference are boldfaced lies we tell ourselves in order to escape the responsibility bestowed on us as conscious individuals. We can never do anything inconsequentially because everything we do impacts someone else. ‘Letting your light shine’ never rang so true.
Everything we do is consequential.
You have reach, so be inspired.
But you also have:
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