When people tell me “Well, what I do doesn’t matter, nothing will change”, it bothers me. Because it’s simply not true. Every little thing each one of us do matters. At some point, to someone, it matters. And not taking action on something because we think it won’t make a difference feels wrong. We all have plenty of proof in our lives that it does.
Why it matters
Once I was on a tube station in London and a girl in her 20’s at the end of the platform was being harassed by three teenagers because one of them wanted a seat. I think I was at Tottenham Court Road, which is a long platform. I was right in the middle of it and I could hear them shouting at her through my headphones and her replying back politely, but as assertive as she could through the stress.
I looked around and saw about 2 dozens of people scattered around the platform staring but not moving or acting on it. These three teenagers were using the argument of “go back to your country” on the premise that she looked Asian and shouting racist abuse. She was a British girl of Asian descent. Apart from those 3 teenagers from out of town (they were not Londoners) probably every single person in the platform was foreign. The guys sitting next to the girl were of African and Eastern Europe descent. I was furious that no one was saying anything!
I stood up, walked to her seat, ignored the boys, and asked her “Would you like to come sit with me, over there? There’s space and nicer people around”. She looked at me, so thankful for my support. One of the guys tried to insult me “Shut up, you Yankee!”. I laughed and brushed it off, “You think that offends me? I’m not American. You can’t even figure out where I’m from”. He was thrown off by my complete disregard for his comment and no insult back and tried a few more whilst I focused on helping the girl with her stuff. I kept ignoring or smiling at the different tries. I had a strong American accent, but I’m Portuguese, so calling me a Yankee as an insult doesn’t even register.
She came with me as we ignored them completely and we sat at the other benches waiting for the train. they fortunately stopped shouted, but kept laughing and acting the same amount of stupid. She was shaking. I gave a hug and told her she was OK, they were just stupid teenagers, she should ignore what they were saying. “But I can’t believe this, I’m British! I was born here, I’ve lived here all my life! My parents are Asian, but I’m British! It makes no sense! This is my country!”.
I kept trying to comfort her and explain that there was no reasoning with stupid teenagers, they were probably not even Londoners and they just wanted to insult people, no matter what. “But no one helped me… Not even those guys… No one on the platform. They don’t look British either, why didn’t they help? You did! And you’re a girl…”. I didn’t know what to answer. It was true. No one tried to help. They all could. No one did. “I’m so grateful, thank you”.
We exchanged contacts as she wanted to pay me a coffee sometime and I wanted to make sure she got home safe, which she did. A few days later, a detective then tried to meet with me because she went to the police to report them and try to bring them to justice, but with my work schedule at the time, I never manage to arrange. Which is the only thing I
What I did was not heroic or crazy. I went over, ignored some stupid kids and gave my support to someone in need. It was a simple gesture really. But by the end of
I think it’s important people understand that yes, our little actions matter. In this case, if there were a few adults supporting that girl, how powerful would that have been? They might have thought: “that girl helped, so there’s not much more I can do”. And it is true, I did. But at least tell her “Sorry, I didn’t help
A lot of us will think the same thing at the same time
The main problem is, when we think our little action
When we don’t take action, we’re not the only ones not doing so. And what feels like a “It’s just me, they don’t need an extra person” becomes a group attitude of several people having the same thought. Which then becomes so impactful.
And not only on situations of helping others. I’m going to give some examples from very different spectrums:
“It’s not a problem to leave my rubbish/trash on the floor, next to the bin”.
You do it. The person that comes after you, saw you do it, so they do it too. The person after
And suddenly there’s a pile of trash next to an empty bin.
“It’s not a problem to not pick after my dog, this is a dog area.”
The next person does it because they saw you do it. The next person does it because they forgot to bring bags to pick it up. The person after them does it because they don’t care about doing it.
And suddenly there’s a minefield of dogs’ crap in the whole dog area and no other dog can go in there because they will come out full of dog poop.
“There’s no running water in a council building of 60 apartments.”
No one calls, because the water is surely missing on every apartment and someone else will call. An hour has passed. Two hours have passed. Three hours. No water. You call the council. And they won’t fix it because it might be a problem in your flat alone, as no one else has called to complain
So there are 60 apartments with no running water for an unnecessary amount of hours because everyone in every apartment thought it was unnecessary to call the council, as they assumed someone else would do it.
This is how everything works.
These are three very simple examples of things we see happening on a constant basis. In one way or another, I’m sure a lot of us can somehow related to the examples above.
And this can be applied to everything.
Like, for example, recycling. Every time you think you doing recycling won’t change a thing, there are thousands thinking exactly the same thing at probably exactly the same time. If each one of you were thinking “my recycling matters” everyone would be doing it and maybe by now, a big change would have already been made at least locally and eventually in the world.
You don’t have to be completely ecological and leave a rubbish/trash free life. Personally, i?m aware that I am not doing everything in my power to be a lot more sustainable. I am well aware of this. But if everyone of us does just what we can, either physically or mentally and slowly do just that bit and this bit more, it would make a huge impact. Because whilst a person alone might not make a big difference when all of us individuals do it at the same time, it suddenly is a much bigger thing.
“No one is going”
I tell this story to my friends every single time they tell me “There’s no point in me doing that. It won’t change anything”. So, if you’re my friend and you’ve heard this once or twice, I’m sorry but I’m going to repeat myself. I think it’s relevant to share this with a lot more people, so here I am.
When I was at university, the student association organised a Gala Dinner for everyone on their final university year. It’s a common thing in Portugal. We were going to have a
When the class was told, everyone started saying that it was too expensive (for Portuguese standards, where a 2 course dinner in a local restaurant and unlimited sangria was – and maybe still is – £11, £30 does sound expensive) and that they wouldn’t go. And besides that they argued that no one was going. So they wouldn’t go.
I wanted to go. We had already missed out on doing our final year trip to somewhere heavenly, like Jamaica or Costa Rica, as that was definitely expensive and most of my friends were struggling financially. So I started showing my friends that £30 for everything we were getting, was actually quite an OK deal. And most of all, it was a technically small financial sacrifice they wouldn’t regret, as it was the last big memory that we would have as a group. From then onward we would all live separate lives and most likely we would never be together again as a group (which, 10 years later, is actually true).
After a couple of talks and discussions between us, they started to realise that it wasn’t that expensive for what we were getting and that it was true, a lot of us were from different parts of the country and most likely we would not meet again as a group ever.
Once they were convinced by these arguments, the last barrier came up: “Well, it doesn’t really matter, no one is going”. So I said it: “I am going”. After a brief silence, my friend Raquel said: “If you’re going, I’m going too”. And suddenly there were two of us going. So the argument of “no one else is going” was no longer valid. When the day came, 30 out of 34 in our class showed up and we had an amazing night.
It took one person, in this case, myself, to change the hearts and minds of 30 other people to come to a dinner that “no one” was going to attend in the first place. So as you can see, one person does make a difference.
I’ve got so many examples of this amongst my friends. One of the most significant ones is a friend of mine who volunteered for this Greek association that took in and “cared for” autistic and general handicap kids. She experienced a horrifying situation as those kids were basically being treated as animals, kept in cages, handcuffed to the bars of their cots, left to their own devices in their rooms for hours on end. She was there for 4 months I believe, came back home and started trying to fight the association to get better conditions for those kids. She managed to get some help, got a journalist crew to cover the case and make some waves, and I believe that to this day she is still trying to help them get a better life. Any other volunteer would have probably come back home after a week and try to simply forget what they saw. But hopefully, even if not enough, she made a difference to those kids and future kids in the institutions’ life.
The chain effect is real
You might not believe it, but the chain effect of good actions is real. If you smile to someone having a bad day, it might help to cheer their day up and instead of being rude to an annoying colleague at work, they will have a little more patience because your smile put them in a better mood.
You can tell the chain effect (on a complete different level) is real when you walk the streets of London. One of the things my parents noticed when visiting for the first time was how clean the city was despite the 8 million plus people living here. There is not much trash on the floor despite the lack of bins. I hadn’t really noticed it, but they are still right to this day. It’s true that there’s a lot of street cleaners in the city doing a great job. But the main reason for this cleanliness is that most people don’t randomly litter as often as in other countries/cities. And because each individual doesn’t do it and there’s little litter on the floor, the majority of the other individuals don’t really feel the need or have a reason to throw theirs on the floor on a regular basis. Of course there’s the odd idiot that does it. But he’s not representative of the majority.
My only hope
My only hope or request with this post is to make it a bit more obvious how actions have repercussions that might seem small but end up having a huge impact.
Look at Greta Thunberg, the 15 year old making waves around the world. Or Malala Yousafzai who, also at 15, was shot and shouldn’t have survived. They are just two people doing something and making a huge difference. Or any of the Parklands Junior School shooting survivors.
I don’t aim to be any of them. I’m not as bold, as strong or as committed. But I aim to simply do the small differences in my small world, in my local community. Use less plastic. Recycle. Find better household products that impact the environment a little less. Invite my neighbour for dinner. Be nice to strangers. Vote. Small things.
Small things that when done by everyone make a big impact.