When I got a paper route as an early teenager, I learned one of those things that makes complete sense in your head but is somewhat impossible to grok on a complete level until you experience it first-hand: A single newspaper hardly weighs a thing. You don’t even think about it. But stuff 30 to 60 of those things in a bag and sling it over your shoulder?* HOLY THE COW that’s heavy!
Which is just a positively visceral way of learning (and getting) that maybe there is no such thing as a “little thing,” for many little things quickly add up to something quite large.
Which, perhaps not surprisingly, applies all over the place.
Often, we think about in terms of making a difference. Much like the pulling of the Trojan Horse, this means that even though we may put in a little bit of effort towards something, when we collectively pursue a grand intention even giant things can be brought into being or (even easily) moved.
However, it is equally important to remind ourselves that this applies equally to the destructive side of things. When we collectively pursue poor intentions, whether consciously or not, whether individual or shaped by the systems we’re surrounded by, or whether by callousness, great things can be destroyed. This includes, by the way, instances of not taking action.
The seductive thing about it is that our thought on it does, in a narrow sense, have some truth to it. “If I do this/don’t do this, it’s just me in a big sea. It won’t make any difference.” Sure. Except it’s almost never really just you, or one person. It’s multiples. And the more who do/don’t do it, the more who also get on that same boat and do/don’t do it, until the impact is downright deleterious and far worse than just a sore shoulder.
And so the “newspaper bag” effect applies both ways. The game, therefore, is to remain present and recognize that our actions (or inactions) do matter and do have a greater impact on the whole. And from there, choose who we are going to be, and what we are going to create.
* Interestingly, and fortunately, I had come across how some of the First Nation communities carried things in backpacks that weren’t supported in the “usual” way, but rather by a strap around the forehead. This is because, as it turns out, the neck is one darn strong muscle. So that’s how I carried my paper bag, slung down my back with the strap around my forehead, pulling it to the side only every few houses to grab a handful of newspapers. No sore shoulder for me!