On December 3, I set out on a pre-Christmas challenge — to post a tip a day we can collectively follow with the goal of making the world a better place.
Today I offer up a question rather than a suggestion:
Do These Small Steps Matter?
On December 7th, Wendell Berry — author, philosopher, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, farmer, and 2013-2014 Chubb Fellow at Yale — shared his thoughts in a public forum at New Haven’s Shubert Theater. Berry, who rarely leaves his farm in Kentucky, answered questions posed by Yale Divinity School Professor Mary Evelyn Tucker and event host and fellow Kentuckian Jeff Brenzel, Master of Timothy Dwight College. I had the privilege of getting a seat in the packed house of 1600. You can watch the event through the “event video” link at the top of this page. The page also contains more on Berry’s life and work as well as the details of his New Haven visit.
Berry stated during this “conversation” that while he is not an optimist, he is hopeful that the little things we do matter, and do make a difference. I like to think that Berry is correct. Otherwise, why bother writing, daily until Christmas, or at all for that matter?
I’d like to share two examples of ways in which cumulative small changes become significant.
The first comes from my experience as a graphic designer. Years ago, when digital typography replaced hot metal typesetting and “desktop publishing” replaced typewriters, it became the convention to use one space after a period rather than two. It created an uproar among traditionalists, but one space after a period is now the norm. The cumulative effect in a short poem or haiku is insignificant. But in a tome like Moby Dick, the number of lines and pages required for printing are reduced considerably by this seemingly small change.
If you don’t believe me, try it yourself. Find a long document in your files. Edit it so that there are two spaces after each period. Count the lines and characters. Now, edit it so that there is only one space. See what a difference removing one tiny space, over and over, can make?
OK, not everyone has that much time for experimenting today.
Here is another, less involved example. The most recent big win in the Mega Millions lottery was a pot of $648 Million (divided between two winners). With a regular ticket price of $1, and a ticket with Megaplier of $2, at least 324 million tickets were purchased over time for the winnings to get that high. See how $1 here and $2 there can add up?
Now imagine everyone in your circle of friends and family switching to LEDs, or cutting down on food waste, or finding a good home for their excess stuff. Small things do matter when lots of people do them.
That’s it for today. “See” you one more time — tomorrow.
“All together now,” as the Beatles once sang. Let’s see how much good we can do.