Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Power of One

“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you. 
Neil DeGrasse Tyson

 That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Walt Whitman- Leaves of Grass

One of the joys of living in the time of youtube, is that you can find things from your youth that you thought you would never see again. For me it was finding old “Schoolhouse Rock” videos, or commercials from my childhood that really took me back. Maybe I’m just a sucker for nostalgia.

There was one video I saw as a child that completely changed my life. It was called “Powers of Ten” and it started with a couple having a picnic in Chicago. Then it magnified out by ten, over and over again, until, finally, it was in the deepest reaches of space. It made me realize how vast the universe we inhabited really was, and how small my little life was in comparison. At the time just going to Chicago seemed like going to outer space to me. The vastness of the universe was too large to comprehend.

And yet, cut to years later and I was living in Chicago myself, right by where the couple in the video was having their picnic. I even went and found the spot they were sitting and laid down and looked at the night sky, remembering as I did how powerfully the video had affected me. At least I’d made it to Chicago! Who was to say I wouldn’t make it even further someday. I was young and in a new city and the world was full of possibilities. It was very exciting.

I recently drove by the same park again, and I remembered what it was like to feel so young and full of promise. I don’t live right in the city anymore, and sometimes forget to look up and admire the tall buildings and architecture and wonder of the place, and that makes me kind of sad. Did I lose my enthusiasm somewhere along the way, or did I just kind of get acclimated to extraordinary things over time?

How could I become that star-gazer again?

I went back and found that old video, and thought about the title. “Powers of ten”, a reference to magnification, but maybe also something else. What about the power of one? What could ONE person do in the time they have been give here? How many lives could one committed, active, passionate person really touch if they devoted their life to such a cause? How many chance meetings and happy accidents and casual conversations changed a day, diverted a path, even altered a life?

I’m certainly not the first person to contemplate these questions. The great 20th century architect Buckminister Fuller once also walked along the shores of Lake Michigan, bankrupt, drinking too much, and contemplating suicide. He asked himself these very same questions, (not far from the very picnic in the video). He decided that his life would be an experiment in the power of one.

He went on to be one of the great inventors and thinkers of the 20th century.

The lesson here is that we all have this light, this power, this ability to alter a number of other lives. The possibilities are endless really if we stop and actually think about the implications. To do this we first have to release ourselves from the tyranny of our own regrets. Maybe you don’t like your job, or your friend didn’t text you back or you didn’t get a break that you thought you deserved. All little things on the surface, but they make up the soundtracks of our thoughts, and, over time, our thoughts define our reality.

We can get trapped there.  

Personally I’m challenging myself to think about this a little more. The next time I begin complaining about my life in my own head, I’m going to reframe the question. Forget about the things I don’t feel are “fair” about my life, how can I use the time and opportunity I have been given to help someone else?

So today, starting now, I decided to make a change. In honor of the fourth of July, and the sacrifices our soldiers have made for me to eat hot dogs and drink beer and watch baseball games, I’m going to offer to counsel our nation’s veterans. For no charge. If you know of someone who is on foreign soil, or is back from oversees, or needs a letter, a kind word, or more extensive counseling. I am available. I have two offices in the Chicago area. I am available via skype @joeyguse. My gmail address is I have contacted my local VA and given them my information to pass on to whoever may need assistance.  I pass this on not to brag, but to hopefully inspire someone else to explore what their power of one might be.

For me it was time to start practicing what I preach.

It’s a start, and I hope people will contact me.