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Wednesday, May 12, 2004


The individual makes all the difference

Commentary by DICK DORWORTH

What power or influence has an individual against such behemoths as big business, big brother, big government, globalism, global warming, global terrorism, species extinction, starvation in Africa, obesity in the U.S., quagmire in Iraq, drought in Western America, habitat destruction and eco-system collapse everywhere, and the exploding population of Homo sapiens on planet earth? Can one person actually alter the course of these and other runaway trains of destruction and tragedy? Do the actions and thoughts and example of an ordinary individual matter?

The answer is yes, but not enough people even get around to asking the question.

To judge from such indicators as the less than 50 percent of eligible America voters who actually vote, and the burgeoning market in anti-depressant drugs in this country, and the average number of hours a day a majority of Americans spend watching mindless television, it would seem that hopelessness reigns. If it isnít hopelessness, then perhaps most Americans donít view the aforementioned behemoths as such big problems. Another possibility is that many people see such things as part of the price of doing business, including the business of life. In these cases theyíre not wallowing in hopelessness, but, rather are filled with hope that such problems will eventually go away before affecting their lifestyles too severely. Either way, the individual who chooses not to be engaged in issues larger than the daily ones of personal survival and happiness, convenience and comfort is still involved in and affected by those issues.

An individual can choose whether or not to be engaged in the large questions, debates and issues of the time, but no one alive can choose to be not involved or unaffected. Jim Morrison once said, "No one gets out of here alive." Alas, this is all too true, all too easily ignored. It is equally true (and ignored) that no one gets out of here uninvolved. An individual who doesnít cast a ballot votes with his absence. The individual who remains a silent witness to oppression and injustice and corruption speaks volumes. The man who surrenders passion to propriety has nothing more to say that hasnít been said before, and he who gives up propriety for passion usually never shuts up about it but often has something worthwhile to say. Those who sell their integrity to the highest bidder are never paid enough, are never satisfied, and, of course, cannot be truly engaged.

It takes a whole individual to be engaged.

The whole individual is humanityís elemental building block. Humanity is the sum of its individuals, and each one is inescapably involved in the lives and deaths of each of the others. The unengaged individual is incomplete, and humanity strains to support the spaces this individual does not fill. Humanity suffers and groans and breaks along predictable fault lines of unengaged individuals.

Do the actions and thoughts and example of an ordinary individual matter?

Gandhi broke the back and spirit of British imperialism and created modern India.

Martin Luther King broke the back (but, sad to say, not the spirit) of institutionalized racism in America.

David Brower kept the Grand Canyon from being dammed.

Renee Askins got wolves re-introduced into Yellowstone and the American West.

An unknown Chinese man once stopped a tank in Tienanmen Square by simply standing his ground.

Daniel Ellesberg shortened the war in Vietnam by many months, if not years.

Someone leaked the photos of American military personnel torturing Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison.

Jon Marvel started what has become the Western Watersheds Project, which gives the landscape of Western America and all the flora and fauna living on it a chance to survive they did not have before.

Maria Montessori started a school based on the wisdom of children helping themselves and their peers and, in the process, learning to feel (and be) competent and self-assured.

Muffy Davis never quit.

Muffy Ritz rode across America.

Charlie French is an Ironman.

Robert Frost wrote, "Something there is that doesnít love a wall."

Yes, each individual matters. What we do counts.

To vote is to be engaged. To campaign for a candidate or an issue is to be engaged on a deeper level.

Write a letter to the editor.

Protest what you oppose.

Support what you approve.

Adopt a child from a Russian or Chinese or Nicaraguan orphanage.

Speak your mind without fear.

Take a walk in the woods or by the Big Wood River.

Walk across the room and unplug the television and throw it away.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.