Q: How many Heroes does it take to change a light bulb?
What can a single Hero do?
Most of us feel pretty powerless much of the time. Our influence seems limited to a few friends, maybe a few visitors to our FaceBook pages. We can do all sorts of heroic deeds, but do they even “amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”? (Casablanca) What’s the point?
The Tipping Point
“I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!” – Peter Finch as Howard Beale in Network
I first heard the phrase, “the tipping point”, in the 1960′s. In fables, it’s the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. In physics, it’s the principle that a small effect can quickly change an otherwise stable equilibrium. In sociology, we reach the tipping point when an event turns into a movement. It can be positive, as with the peace movement, or negative (a lynch mob).
So, things happen, and sometimes big changes result. What does that have to do with Heroes?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. One person’s willingness to take a stand can make a difference. But first, you have to get mad. Or at least passionate enough to care and to take risks for what you believe in.
If you find yourself questioning the value and impact of your deeds, you might want to read The Tipping Point, a 2000 book by Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point talks about influences that can turn a fad into a social epidemic. Gladwell breaks these down into the “law of the few”, the “stickiness factor”, and the “power of context”. I’m going to look at the law of the few as it applies to The School for Heroes.
The Law of the Few
Thomas Jefferson wrote that, “all men are created equal.” But their influence is anything but equal. We remember Paul Revere’s 1775 “midnight ride” during the American Revolution, but few remember William Dawes, Samuel Prescott, or others who rode out on the same mission. That’s largely due to Longfellow’s famous poem about the event. But according to Gladwell, there is another critical reason – Paul Revere was one of the “few” who cause an event to tip.
Paul Revere was a man with connections. He belonged to multiple social, political, and business groups. He was a respected silversmith among the upper classes in the Boston area. Now if a stranger knocked on your door at 2:00 in the morning to warn you that “the British Regulars are coming,” how would you react? Might your reaction be a little different if the stranger was someone whose name you had heard before, and who had a reputation for being active in civic affairs? That familiarity might make the difference between you barring your door or asking how you could help.
Gladwell persuasively argues that some people are connectors who go out of their way to know many people. Others are “mavens” who soak up knowledge and love to share it with other people. A third type are expert salesmen who are great at convincing others to buy, to join, or to take action. All of these people are able to forge strong and effective connections with others.
Where does that leave the rest of us? Are these connectors special people from birth? Are the rest of us doomed to be isolated and unimportant?
I say nay! Connectors, like Heroes, are made, not born. Any of us can work to build up our networks and our social skills to become connectors. It isn’t easy, and it can certainly be uncomfortable, but all of us are capable of creating connections.
I’m not saying you have to run out and join the Lions, the Rotary Club, and the Toastmasters. At least not right away. First make sure you connect with the people you see every day. When you pass someone in the hallway at school or work, how do you react? Do you walk on by, smile, or actually talk to them?
You probably pass a lot of interesting people every day; but how many of them do really know? Find a minute now and again to have a real conversation with someone. You might make a friend for life or discover a new passion. In any case, you will start to forge a connection.
People are used to being ignored and living in their private shells. When someone actually takes the time to listen to them, they are surprised and pleased. You may be in for a surprise too, because most people are actually really interesting once you get to know them. It just takes that first tiny risk, that willingness to listen, that makes a connection possible.
Q: How many Heroes does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Light bulb?? A single Hero can change the world!
What happens when you flip on a light switch? You form a connection. It takes connections all the way down the line, but in the end, there is light.
Those connections don’t “just happen”; every one is the result of a conscious decision. Many people took the time and effort to build that network and provide power. Most of them did it for profit, but so what? The result is light where you want it, when you need it.
Life connections work the same way. You build them one at a time, and you have to spend some time and energy to maintain them. You might meet someone because they say something interesting, because you think you will profit from the connection, or because you find them attractive. They will accept the connection for their own reasons.
But once the connection is forged, it has a life of its own. Signals pass through the nodes in unpredictable ways. When Susan Boyle became an Internet sensation, Lori and I found out about her performance from multiple friends and acquaintances. Today, Lori heard about a video, Love the Way You Lie, from a design blog to which she subscribes. Lori shared it with me because it’s “incredibly powerful”, and now I’m sharing it with you. The video is about domestic violence, but takes care to explain such behavior rather than just demonize it. We would not have heard of it without our network of contacts.
How important is one connection? One of the first comments on that video mentioned that it only had 3 views when he first saw it yesterday, and it’s now up to 900,000. By the time Lori watched it 12 seconds after that comment was posted, the count was up to 1.2 million. Some of those first few viewers must have shared the link with a few of their connections, and it snowballed from there.
“Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won
Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none
And by union what we will can be accomplished still
Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.”
- Ruthie Gorton, based on the UMW Constitution
When scales are in balance, it doesn’t take much to tip them one way or another. Maybe your vote, your words, your actions will not be enough by themselves. But when you connect with others, your combined weight can change the balance.
You can be one of the few who make a difference. Create connections with people, then use your connections to share things that matter to you. When you build real relationships, you will find people who care. Let them know what you are passionate about, and the message may spread.
You have the power to tip the scales of good and evil, justice and injustice. Use your power wisely.