selective accountability EC_Joy_1

Every individual contribution matters

“One individual action won’t make a difference.”

When it comes to enacting political change, people often hide behind this mentality that an individual contribution is so negligible that it is not even worth it to try to change the world. After all, how much of a difference can one individual ever hope to accomplish on a global scale? The answer: much more than you think. In a world increasingly plagued with environmental issues, homelessness and poverty, it is crucial to realize that you must hold yourself accountable to change in order to see your issues resolved.

There is a concept in psychology called the “diffusion of responsibility,” the phenomenon in which individuals assume that “someone else will take responsibility” for a task placed before a group of people. This is the very mindset that people apply to important issues of the world — they direct the responsibility to some other group, whether it be the government, organizations or celebrities. It is easy to understand the rationale behind this mindset; after all, it is convenient to shift the blame and responsibility on to others instead of oneself. But what does it take for people to realize that change starts with the individual?

Take climate change, for example. Many people believe that small actions, such as adopting a healthy diet or cutting down individual gas emissions, will not make a significant enough difference to combat climate change. However, all of these personal lifestyle changes do still make a difference, albeit small. Still, even small differences, when accumulated, can eventually amount to long-term, impactful change. Regardless of how insignificant our actions may seem, if they still help our world, it’s worth making these changes.

And even if these individual actions do not amount to any tangible impact on climate change, the precedent they set for society is important enough to warrant taking them. Our individual actions are significant because of the message that they send — that we are part of a society that cares. According to the magazine Slate, research “suggests that lifestyle change can build momentum for systemic change,” citing the example that humans spring into action not because they see smoke but because they see other people “rushing in with water.” So, if not for the tangible benefits, individual actions are meaningful because they serve as examples for others in society.

Here at Walnut, at the local level, students are striving to influence greater issues through their individual efforts. Volunteering clubs, such as Key Club, Interact Club, National Honors Society and Environmental Care and Global Awareness, have collaborated to fundraise money to help animals affected by the Australian wildfires through an organization called the World Wildlife Foundation. By coming together for the greater good, these students are taking it upon themselves, through their own actions, to change the world. Small actions, such as donating money and joining a club, can accumulate to something greater and impact global issues, as we have seen at Walnut.

It may seem natural to assume that one vote will not make a difference. However, the power of voting lies in the collective actions of many people who choose to vote, and all that starts with one person — the individual. By voting, citizens can express their voice through the people who they elect. By choosing not to vote, we are stifling our voice. Similarly, by choosing to not take action on global issues that we are passionate about, such as climate change, we are stifling our individual power.

However, this mindset should not be limited to climate change but rather applied to any global issue. Instead of complaining about what we need to do, we should take the initiative ourselves. For example, a common situation in which people tend to disregard their individual impact is in voting. Voting apathy, and low voter turnout, is generally a result of the attitude that a singular vote will not be able to change legislation or influence global events. According to CNN, around 55 percent of voting-age citizens voted in the 2016 presidential election. When asked in a poll why some citizens do not vote, 59% believed that there is no point in voting because “nothing ever gets done” and 37% said that “voting doesn’t make a difference” in their lives, according to the Huffpost. 

Beyond the tangible benefits, there is a moral obligation for everyone to do the most they can, in their own way, to help out humanity. Ethics professor Peter Singer believes that there is a “very strong moral obligation to act” because by not acting we are affecting future generations ( Singer states that just because the “effect [of one’s actions] may be felt in the distant future” doesn’t allow us to escape our responsibilities to act. By giving in to this defeatist mindset that our individual actions are insignificant, we are giving up on our own moral responsibilities.

By Raymond Dunn, Opinion editor
Editorial cartoon by Joy Wang