I am only one, but still I am one

A few days ago, I posted to my Facebook page for Southeast Ecology with a quote from Edward Everett Hale, American author and Unitarian Universalist minister. The quote, sometimes titled “Lend a Hand” is one of my favorites.

Hale’s Lend a Hand Idea

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.

Edward Everett Hale

I posted the quote with a re-posted ad from the Satilla Riverkeeper to help them spread the word about an upcoming river cleanup effort on September 19th. My intent was to use Hale’s words to remind my Facebook followers how the efforts of each individual add up. Alone, none of us accomplishes much, but in aggregate our efforts make a big difference.

OK, But What’s The Big Deal?

Hale’s idea isn’t unique – many people have said something similar – but what is unique is his pushback against the feeling of ineffectiveness. Instead of deciding not to try because the efforts of only one person are likely to be inconsequential by themselves, he leads us to the idea of agency. We are empowered to act simply by virtue of our existence, and feeling small or inadequate is hardly a reason to abdicate that power. If we do, then we the prophecy of ineffectiveness is self-fulfilling.

Obviously, I think Hale’s words make an important point. His words are so important to me that they are foundational to one of my core values: live each day with the intent of making the world a better place. Grand, sweeping gestures aren’t necessary – the word “gestures” pretty much makes that clear – but small actions can and do have great effect. And they often add to the small actions of others in ways that make a BIG difference.

Edward Everett Hale, American author and Unitarian Universalist minister
Photo of Edward Everett Hale from the Lend A Hand Society webpage

Hale’s Words Are Important To Conservation

It’s not uncommon for conservation-minded people to feel overwhelmed or that their efforts are pointless because no one else seems to care.

Hale’s Lend A Hand quote reminds us that even though each of us is “only one,” we still have the ability to do something. The implication being that we each power to effect change in our small part of the world, and those small contributions add up to something big.

So, take heart! Your efforts do matter. A lot.

Deep Dive Into Hale

Since I made the above referenced Facebook post, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the quote from Hale. So I decided to see what more I could learn. Below is a short list of links I perused.

Hale is widely quoted. A good list of his quotes is available on goodreads. Another pretty good compilation is available on BrainyQuote.

Hale was a prolific writer. Here is an archive of three of the pieces he wrote for the The Atlantic.

Several people and organizations have published biographical information about Hale. One of the best pieces is from the Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography. Another good biography is on the website for Boston’s Lend A Hand Society; the society is named for the title of the quote I used above. And then there’s this piece from Harvard Magazine.