Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Power of One

the ability of a person or a group to influence the beliefs and actions of other people.

Nothing gets done unless someone works on it. However, not just anyone who works on something subtantial will complete the task at hand. One crucial element in getting important things done is power. Power, as defined above, inspires action, motivates excellence and generates results.

The question is, where does this power lie? Do individuals have any power in society? Or are individuals bound by the laws and regulations laid down by corporations and governments?


Attending the caucus recently was quite the experience. The long lines of mostly college students waiting to verify their credentials, the volunteers scrambling to move people to their designated locations, and me, trying to make sense of it all. In the room designated for Precinct 9, one man stood in front of the room yelling out names and asking for nominations. Some people in the overcrowded room raised their hands and similarly yelled out names as nominations. In the midst of all the commotion, little squares of paper were handed around the crowd. “If you need suggestions, Hannah is who you should vote for. She knows what she’s doing, just saying!” said one voter who was shuffling through the crowd the get out of the room.

I stepped out of the room for a breath of fresh air, then stepped back in. Another round of yelling/nomination has started. This time, I was able to catch the nominees giving their spiel on why they should be entrusted with the fate of Precinct 9. They weren’t very convincing. I could’ve given a better 15 second pitch. After everything was done and the votes for the presidential candidates in the room were tallied, I left, feeling dubious about the event I had just attended.

I was bewildered. I had thought that something as important as the future of the nation would have been given more planning. Why weren’t there neat lines and more organized check-ins? Why weren’t there enough seats? Why were all the residents in Precinct 9 given just one tiny classroom? Sure, perhaps this was all due to the fact that the caucus was run by volunteers. I guess they had to work with what they have. But could we really trust the delegates that were nominated? It seemed like all they needed was a friend to nominate them and a sprinkle (or none, really) of charisma to get elected. The whole thing felt like a mess of a party.

Then it hit me.

These people were just volunteers.

Why wasn’t there a professional team of caucus event runners? Apparently no one was going to pay people to make sure that the once-in-four-years party runs smoothly. But the beauty of this is they didn’t need to, because the volunteers cared about what they were doing, and will do a good job of fulfilling their responsibilities. Despite being unorganized and less than efficient, the volunteers actually got the job done. Voters were credentialed, ballots were collected and tallied, and delegates were elected.

Where have we seen this before?


We all know what Wikipedia is. Although Wikipedia is not known to be the most reliable source for information, it is pretty accurate. In fact, it is accurate enough that people visit it enough such that it ranks seventh in the world for the site with the most traffic. On Wikipedia, everyone is a volunteer, anyone can make changes to the information housed on its servers. Users are constantly fact-checking articles to make sure that their sources are reliable and verified. They do a good enough job of portraying the information accurately. 

Quora is a site not unlike Yahoo! Answers. You ask a question, others answer. Like with Wikipedia, anyone can contribute. This means that the asker will likely get answers ranging from the trivial to the helpful. However, the noise of unhelpful information is usually cancelled out by good information, as people respond and rebut and revise each responder’s answers. In generally, one could glean the information they need because the responders, as a whole, do a good enough job of teasing out the information the asker needs.

People working with people.

In his book, Wisdom of the Crowds, James Surowiecki related the story of a 1906 country fair in Plymouth where 800 people participated in a contest to estimate the weight of a slaughtered and dressed ox. Statistician Francis Galton observed that the median guess, 1207 pounds, was accurate within 1% of the true weight of 1198 pounds.

The point he made in his books is that the populous as a whole can come up with a good enough solution, even though each individual perceives things differently. It is the diversity of the group that when taken the average of, cancels out the noise of bad information leading to an answer that is as good as, but often better than, the answer given by any of the individuals.

People working individually.

Each individual has unique interests, unique perspectives and unique skills. Each individual is capable of achieving great good and great harm. For example, John Keating from the film Dead Poets Society made a lasting impact on the boys he taught even though he had no authority over them. This is because he had been endowed with a power that transcends authority. School authorities had no power over the students, even Neil Perry’s father held no sway over his son.

Edward Snowden had power because he held information. Voltaire had the power that transformed the thoughts of intellectuals. Thomas Monson has the power to inspire and uplift those who listen to his words.

People with Power
Edward Snowden

While working with the NSA, Edward Snowden noticed that the government organization's surveillance of the people of the United States has gone a little too far and much too invasive. Over the years, he began to build up a collection of documents detailing the NSA's surveillance practices. Armed with this information, he left the United States to meet with journalists from The Guardian to expose what he deemed to be invasive and disturbing, sparking domestic and international debate. 
Sir Isaac Newton

During the Age of Enlightenment, people started thinking beyond the established authority, seeking truth in nature, instead of from the traditional clergy. Sir Isaac Newton is one of the most renowned figures in this age. Insisting on doing things the "mathematical way", he described gravity and the laws of motion using mathematics. Today, we still use calculus, which was one of his major contributions to mathematics.


Power is with the individual, for good. One important difference between individuals and large organizations is that they are not able to move and act as freely as individuals are. Sure, governments and corporations provide the muscle to move things along, but the power is with the people because inspired individuals are the driving force behind a cause, an effort or a reformation.

Power is with the individual, for bad. If you ask anyone why they're disenchanted with the US government or Google, they respond with somewhat of a blanket statement. However, if we drill down to the source of the problem, it is usually the decision or action of one person that is the source of that disenchantment.

Ultimately, power is with the individual.

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