Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.
15th October 2020
‘Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only little’. (Edmund Burke 1729-97)
I’m sure you, like me, have often felt demotivated at the scale of some of the problems that we face in our world. For example, what difference does my individual recycling of waste make to the enormity of human waste being produced worldwide? And does choosing to buy clothes from shops with a proven ethical track record really make any difference to the conditions of those working in sweatshops ? It’s hard not to feel cynical and do what requires least effort and is of least cost to us both in time and money.
JK Rowling recently commented that the world is divided not between people who are good and bad but between people who strive to do the right thing and those who just do what is easiest. I know that I am guilty of just that and many of us avoid the ‘road least travelled’ because it may be too hard or inconvenient.
That’s why our quotation this week is such an important ‘wake- up call’ to motivate us to do whatever we can in our situation, because it is our collection of little changes that have the potential to bring about bigger ones. We have talked before about how ‘marginal changes’ in aggregate, bring the changes we need in personal performance , well that is also the case for the changes we want to see in our world.
And fortunately history is littered with individuals from whom we can learn, who by doing what they could initiated significant and often lasting changes. Small initial changes can and do start movements and these may be local, national or global.
This year marks 35 years since the ‘Live Aid’ concert which was the first global charity fund-raising event for famine relief in Ethiopia. It was the brainchild of Bob Geldof a musician, who after watching a report on the news covering the famine in Ethiopia felt impelled to do something urgently. His action led to an event billed as the ‘global jukebox’ which was held simultaneously in London and Philadelphia. It also inspired the Soviet Union, Canada, Japan, Yugoslavia, Austria, Australia and West Germany to hold concerts for the cause on the same day. It was one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time with an estimated audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations watching the live broadcast, nearly 40% of the world population!
Arguably for many of us images of suffering on our screens have become ‘normalised’, yet what Bob Geldof saw in that famine report so incensed him that he had to act and he famously let people know his thoughts in no uncertain terms! One man with one cause, motivated millions to act.
I know from discussions with girls at Wychwood that many have particular causes about which they feel passionate. We should fan the flames of those passions so they feel empowered to act even if they feel that their contribution might be small. Such actions could motivate us all to engage more actively and do what we can. We do not want to make the greatest mistake as Edmund Burke said, of doing nothing because we can do so little.