Weird things happen when you’re dealing with big numbers, but when you get to them slowly. Here’s a very basic example, speaking purely with respect to financial wealth:
A man whose net worth is only $1 is not rich. Far from it. Let’s call him poor.
If you take a man who’s poor and give him $1, he’s still poor.
Given those two starting premises, start a little loop. Give the guy another dollar. Is he rich now? No. $3? No. $4? No. But you loop a billion times, and of course, now he is. Somewhere along the line, he went from being poor to being stable… and, continuing, at some point he went from being stable to being well-off. Then he graduated to financially secure… on his way to rich. A dollar a time, he crossed all those lines.
The thing is… it’s difficult to figure out where to draw those lines, because they’re big, wide and blurry. And I don’t mean because everyone would have different definitions and opinions. I mean just you. Pick a number where you’d consider the guy to be unarguably in one of those categories. Now think of a number that’d plant him squarely in the next category up. Those two numbers are far apart. Even if you try to bring them closer together, you’ll still never get to a point where it flips by $1.
This same concept is what plays with our minds in elections. What difference does my one vote make? We keep getting told that it makes all the difference; every vote counts, etc. But the truth is… all other things being equal, your one little vote doesn’t matter. It’s quite a paradox. Take the last election, wherever you are. Change nothing except your one vote… remove it from the election. Did that change anything? Of course not. But also, of course, everything changes if more people start thinking like that. Many elections went the other way (Hilary 2016 comes to mind) because so many people become convinced that their one little vote wouldn’t matter (like people in Michigan) that they didn’t bother voting. At some point, even though it got there one missed vote at a time, it made a difference.
I’ve been accused of being a bit preachy and/or being a little shame-bashing on those making some individual decisions based on how they’re navigating their lives these days; choices with which I don’t agree with, with respect to travel or socializing or whatever… let alone masks and vaccines… but the intent of this post is not that. I’m just here to share a thought… reflecting on how we suddenly hit tipping points where everything changes… and how we got there.
Most rags-to-riches stories are long and drawn out; tiny, incremental gains over long periods of time. Perhaps not dollar-by-dollar, but it’s not a fine line that was hopped over one particular day.
Similarly, it’s like that with a pandemic. I look at these numbers every day, and there’s micro-movement in some direction. On a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t seem to matter much. But when you take a step back and look at it from a bigger-picture point of view, one day you realize you’re in a totally different place. These days, that looks a lot better than it did just a few short weeks ago. But it’s worth remembering how we got here, and how we’ll get to wherever we’re going next… one dollar or one step or one person… at a time.
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