I believe in the power of the individual. Although I used to think that individuals have little or no power within conforming cultures, an individual can elicit enormous change with a little bit of luck and a strong belief system.
Look at Jeff Wigand. After working for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, he single-handedly brought down big tobacco by revealing the harmful practices the industry inflicted on the public. Courageously, he followed his moral compass at great sacrifice to his family and personal well-being. Today, he lectures to people around the world regarding the dangers of tobacco usage, serves as an expert witness for tobacco litigation, and seeks to reduce teenage tobacco use through his non-profit organization, Smoke-Free Kids, Inc.
Former Vice President Al Gore is another example of an individual following his passion to initiate change. His documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, exposes the harsh realities of global warming and seeks to spread awareness about the seriousness of climate change. As an activist, he has transformed a consuming culture and was awarded a Nobel Prize for his efforts.
An individual doesn’t have to change the world to make a statement. Even in my elite business school program, the pressure to conform is extremely high and any individual who follows an unconventional path sets an example for others. One of my peers had a highly coveted internship at a top investment bank and hated it. He decided, much to the astonishment of his peers, to work at a non-for-profit organization where he could contribute his skills to an organization he believed in. Indeed, divergence from the status quo serves as an example to others that they too can follow their own paths rather than the highest paid or most culturally-accepted path.
Individuals can not rely on other people or supernatural forces to elicit change. Instead, they must follow their own belief systems and have a strong courage of conviction to accomplish their goals. This is the power of the individual.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.