This was a diagnostic writing I did for my English composition class. I had one hour to complete it; this is the finished essay.
Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” However, it is hard to believe that just a few people can make a significant difference. Given the many great challenges that the world faces, it seems impossible to change anything for the better unless one can attract a lot of people and spend a lot of money.
Assignment: Can a small group of concerned individuals have a significant impact on the world? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.
Every action begins with an idea. Before Norman Borlaug could save a billion lives with his new strain of wheat, he had to conceptualize it. Before Karl Marx could popularize the idea of Socialism which would kill over 100 Million persons, he had to write down its tenets. Changes occur because humans think and act on those thoughts. But is it necessary for a large group (perhaps a society) to think the same thing before acting on it will make a difference? After all, Stalin was only one man and couldn’t have oppressed Russia without droves of loyal soldiers and police. But to say that large numbers are required to change the world, while applicable in some cases, is not necessarily true.
Consider, for example, the legend of Robin Hood who, along with his small band of merry men, reclaimed what the people rightfully owned. Assuming that the people were ill-equipped to stand up to Prince John on their own, the size of Robin Hood’s group had little to do with the outcome. Surely the people of Nottingham supported Robin Hood, but they were not involved in his actions. Neither were the majority of the American people involved in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. But even without physically involving themselves in the debate, Americans were nonetheless exposed to the narrative of equal treatment for all persons. It was through this exposure from a relatively small group that support for civil rights escalated. Even before the passage of the Civil Rights Act or other famous landmarks, the United States had been forever changed. As Samuel Adams said, “It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”
Oftentimes all that is needed for change to occur is for an advocate to teach others. Following the presidential campaign of Dr. Ron Paul in 2008, interest in Libertarianism (especially among youth) grew exponentially. Recalling that every action starts with an idea, it is no stretch of the imagination to say that Dr. Paul’s campaign will have had a tremendous impact on the US (and, considering today’s high level of globalization, the world). Even when faced with apathy or fearful reluctance to proffer support from others, small groups and individuals are often able to demonstrate an admirable ability to affect change however they can. There are many examples from World War II of selfless individuals risking life and limb to harbor persons targeted by the SS. One might not be so inclined to say that saving a few hundred persons from death would change the world, but for those few persons it made a world’s worth of difference.
Beyond all these considerations, we must realize that whether members of a group act together, as revolutionaries do, or separately, as underground railroaders do, they are all acting as individuals with their own ideas and courses of action. In the end we must remember that any group, no matter how large, is made up of individuals. It is the individual who, either alone or in concert with other single individuals, thinks and acts in whatever manner he deems optimal for the achievement of his desired ends. It is the individual who changes the world. And whether it is a small part or a large part, it is a part nonetheless. One individual can mean the difference between success and failure, and the world is nothing more than a group of seven billion individuals.