from the desk of H. Bowie...

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The Value of Individuals

An individual dancing
image credit: iStock/Artranq

Some people believe that we humans lack free will. As computers become increasingly powerful, many observers allege that we are just bundles of algorithms, programmed by a combination of our inherited genetic material and our environment, simply responding to stimuli in predictable ways.

I say that’s a lot of hooey.


Well, partly, because we have the words of countless great women and men telling us otherwise.

Here’s what Steve Jobs had to say:

Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it….

And here’s what Margaret Mead said:

Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Science fiction author Ray Bradbury offered us the following:

People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it. Predicting the future is much too easy, anyway. You look at the people around you, the street you stand on, the visible air you breathe, and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I want better.

In apparent agreement with Bradbury, computer scientist Alan Kay offered this advice:

Don’t worry about what anybody else is going to do…. The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright shared this secret with us:

I know the price of success: dedication, hard work and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.

And even if we suspect that many of our thoughts and actions are not entirely committed through our own free will, we would do well to remember the words of novelist E.M. Forster:

Failure or success seem to have been allotted to men by their stars. But they retain the power of wriggling, of fighting with their star or against it, and in the whole universe the only really interesting movement is this wriggle.

And if we think that only a few special people have the power to influence history, we should remember the words of Albert Schweitzer:

Of all the will toward the ideal in mankind only a small part can manifest itself in public action. All the rest of this force must be content with small and obscure deeds. The sum of these, however, is a thousand times stronger than the acts of those who receive wide public recognition. The latter, compared to the former, are like the foam on the waves of a deep ocean.

It is sometimes tempting to feel that we are being swept up in forces beyond our control. And while we are all in many ways products of our environment, we should never underestimate our abilities as individuals to contribute to the health and happiness of others.

So let’s all keep on wriggling toward the ideal.

It’s a lot more fun than any of the alternatives.

December 10, 2018