August 25, 2019
The Power of One
You may recognize The Power of One as the title of a novel written by Bryce Courtenay and published in 1990. Courtenay, like the main character Peekay in his novel, grew up in South Africa. Affected by the different cultural and racial divisions of his country, Peekay grows up to understand that through the power of one, he could achieve all his life goals. I mention this not to recommend the novel, though it is a fine one, but to invite you to focus on an obvious fact of life – the power of one.
History is full of instances when one person, or one vote, made an enormous difference. For example, since Courtenay’s novel is about life in South Africa, consider the remarkable difference made in that country by one man whose name was Nelson Mandela. Imprisoned for 27 years, and released when he was 71, he was soon elected the leader of his nation and is credited with ending apartheid, the country’s policy of racial discrimination. Mandela was one person whose courage and character changed a nation.
Considering the racial tensions that continue to afflict America, we would do well to heed Mandela’s words about love and hate: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Imagine the difference one person could make by taking that to heart and, for the rest of his life, intentionally teach others to love their neighbors!
History teaches us the difference one person can make. Consider the following situations when one vote made a difference:
1. In 1645, one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of England.
2. In 1649, one vote cost King Charles I of England his head. The vote to behead him was 67 against and 68 for — one vote caused the ax to fall.
3. In 1800, the result of the electoral college votes was a tie vote for Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. The tie put the election of President in the hands of the House of Representatives where Thomas Jefferson was elected our third president by one vote.
4. In 1824, none of the four Presidential candidates received an electoral majority. The election was thrown into the House of Representatives, where John Quincy Adams defeated front runner Andrew Jackson by one vote to become the nation’s 6th president.
5. In 1845, Texas was admitted to the union as a state by one vote.
6. The Alaska Purchase of 1867 was ratified by one vote — paving the way for the annexation of America’s largest state in 1958.
7. In 1868, one vote in the U.S. Senate saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment.
I came across an interesting story about the passage of the 19th Amendment to the constitution giving women the right to vote. Congress began debating the amendment in 1878 but it was not until 1919 that it narrowly passed both houses of Congress and was sent to the states to be ratified. When it came time for the Tennessee legislature to vote, on August 18, 1920, the amendment was one vote short of passing.
The Tennessee legislators were deadlocked 48 to 48 when it came time for Harry Burn, the youngest of the legislators, to cast his vote. He had been expected to vote against it, but he had in his pocket a note from his mother which read, “Dear Son, Hurrah, and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt. I noticed some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification. Your Mother.” He took his mother’s advice and voted in favor of the amendment. It is said that the young man fled to the attic of the state capitol and camped out there until the angry crowd downstairs finally dispersed. Doing what is right often requires courage but character is not developed in a vacuum!
One person, doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason, can change a relationship, a community, a nation or even the world. Someone reminds us of the power of one with these words:
One tree can start a forest.
One bird can herald spring.
One smile begins a friendship.
One handclasp lifts a soul.
One candle wipes out darkness.
One laugh will conquer gloom.
One hope will raise our spirits.
One touch can show you care.
One life can make a difference.
The problems we face in America will not be solved overnight but they can be solved if one by one, each of us decides to do what we can to restore civility and kindness to the hallways of our nation. If we are willing to do it, we can find ways to replace condemnation with commendation, discrimination with hospitality, insults with respect, and hatred with love. Since everyone speaks the language of love, we can replace the gutter rhetoric of our day with words that reflect understanding and good will. We dare not wait until everyone chooses to do the right thing; each of us must decide to do what we can to improve cultural civility even if we are the only ones doing it. The unknown poet says it well:
I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something
That I can do.
You are one. You have the power of one. Use it. Begin today. Do what you can to change your world! + + +