The Power of One

first_imgPhoto credit: andrewjbrown-blogspot.comThe parable of the mustard seed reminded me of a friend who suggested recently that I should preach some time about people who buck the trend in Trinidad these days, who are not corrupt, and don’t think we’re hurtling towards disaster in a handbasket. He thought my focus should be the ability of single individuals, “the power of one,” to go against the tide of prevailing trends.I’m not sure I gave him the response he was looking for. I wasn’t enthusiastic; on the other hand, I didn’t completely through the idea out the window. As I think of it now, perhaps I am just the sort of opposition, if you multiply me by thousands, that “the power of one” feels up against. We’re not complacent, we favor resistance, but we hesitate and we dither.If my memory serves, the Power of One as a symbol of overcoming became popular as in the early nineties with a novel of the same name set in South Africa before World War II. It traced the lonely struggles and eventual triumph of an English orphan set among British-hating Afrikaaners. The novel’s title soon had resonance in situations where one person takes on powerful systems with the courage of individual strength. Thus, in 1989, the young man in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, who stared down a column of PLA tanks, halting them in their tracks, became an example that spoke around the world of rare courage against odds even he could scarcely grasp. What became of that lonely, brave figure? He was immediately pulled out of harm’s way, and very likely suffered for his impudence, but the picture of him standing before the tanks still retains its enormous power to move and inspire.One remembers also Friday, December 1, 1955, when a black woman, Rosa Parks, boarded a crowded bus in segregated Montgomery, Alabama. A solitary individual in a big, inhumane system, she could have followed the bus driver’s instructions and given up her seat for a white person. But she was tired, not only after a long day’s work, but tired, as she later explained, of the racism meted out to her and other African-Americans every day of their lives. “No,” she said. “I won’t.”The story quickly took off. Montgomery’s 17,000 African-Americans resolved to stand firm against further injustice. A one-day boycott of the city’s bus system continued for 381 days, with Martin Luther King Jr. as its spokesperson. What began as one woman’s courageous decision on a crowded bus turned into a widespread stand against segregation and racism. On November 13, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation on city buses was unconstitutional. The desegregation of buses began a month later — exactly a year after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Rosa Parks clarifies an important feature of the “power of one.” Such outstanding figures appear to be self-explanatory, meteors streaking out of nowhere. But behind every one is a history of special influences, that is, people and history, which gave the life its moral shape and ideals. “I kept thinking,” Parks later wrote, “about my mother and my grandparents, and how strong they were.” I am sure if one could interview the unknown protester of Tiananmen Square, he would point to a similar history of antecedent influence.The situation is somewhat different in the milieu my friend envisages here in Trinidad. How does “the power of one” prevail in the situation of growing capitulation to negative feeling? What form will resistance take? I suggest that in the “power of one” the individual is always envisioned as the start of a new coalition. In all instances, historical and otherwise, where the individual chooses to stand out, the aim is not to remain solitary but to be joined by like-minded others. The point is to initiate a new community, with a different soul, marked by different goals and different ideals.Such individuals must keep trying to persuade others of the reasons for their hope. They must be grounded in the hope themselves, in a vision they embrace with their hearts, and in values they have full faith in.Vital coalitions grow from sharing this faith, as something real, not an abstraction that only persuades the mind. As Cardinal Newman once observed, “a man will live and die upon a faith; no man is a martyr for a conclusion.”The hope animating the individual’s vision must have some of hope’s standard features, namely, doggedness, patience, and an ability to live with darkness; and in a pluralistic context like ours, some additional qualities: hope must be completely without prejudice. If it’s not hope for all, it’s hope for none.The “power of one” refers to a human resource of proven social power, but this depends largely on the “one” involved, on the passion, energy, and commitment brought to the situation or the crisis. The avenues to social progress are many, but as Martin Luther King jr. – another striking exemplar of the “power of one,” reminded, “even a superficial look at history shows that [such progress] is never inevitable. It comes through tireless effort and the persistent work of dedicated individuals.” By: Henry Charles PhD Tweet Sharing is caring! Share Sharecenter_img Share 31 Views   no discussions FaithLocalNews The Power of One by: – June 18, 2012last_img

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