Making positive changes in life can be boring. And many of those who want you to do something good often fail to communicate their will effectively (just look at Twitter for social preachers who pass on their judgement in the most didactic way). I think about the conduct of a vegan who appeared on Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 show after noticing Jeremy’s ham and cheese sandwich. He couldn’t hide is disdain and launched a tirade of ominous similes to make his point. Now, I don’t eat meat, but this man frustrated me; his self-righteous passive aggression leaving me cold and unconnected to him and his message. Paradoxically, I didn’t disagree with the core of his argument, just the way he did nothing to progress the cause and promote a meat free diet because the presentation of his case raised people’s hackles. It’s my belief that you cannot generate real and meaningful change by belittling the subject and belligerently making them feel small, publicly chastised and patronised. So, what could he have done? What could this activist, believing strongly in his cause, do to make a lasting influence on Jeremy Vine’s meat-eating habits?
So determined are we to bring others round to our way of thinking that we often ignore the personal upheaval required to make that change happen. For example, if you have been eating and enjoying meat for 50 years I fully appreciate how difficult it is to leave it behind. It’s quite an impactful life choice because it introduces a layer of questioning that hasn’t existed for almost 55,000 meals over a lifetime (assuming three meals a day). But, introduce a small, almost negligible and non-draconian change and big things can happen. Enter the ‘Power of One’.
Let’s assume Jeremy (not Vine…a generic person now!) enjoys a half-pound burger once or twice a week. That’s on top of a largely healthy, meat-based diet. Jeremy doesn’t really want to stop eating meat but is aware enough to understand the ethical footprint meat eating creates. Perhaps the way forward is to ask Jeremy to eat just one less meat dish a week; maybe his half-pound burger. The passionate activist might ask, what good would that do? How will eating just one less burger a week make any kind of a tangible difference? Well, this single act has powerful repercussions.
To create one half pound burger, it requires 5,455 litres of water (yes, you read that correctly). There are 35 grams of fat in your typical half pounder and, one cow can create approximately 900 of them. Now, scale up and the real impact presents itself. Just this single person losing this one patty from their diet for life (for arguments sake, let’s say 20 years here) cause the numbers shake out in a very interesting way.
Jeremy would save 5,643,200 litres of water, avoid 36 kilos of fat and save the life of one cow. Just by changing his habits and not eating one half pounder a week. And if we were to go even further, let’s say a modest one million people join his new way of living, the figures reveal themselves to be even more thought-provoking. 5,643 billion litres of water saved. 35,431 tonnes of fat not ingested, and one million bovine lives saved.
And that’s the ‘Power of One’; a single small change weekly scales up to make a considerable difference when considered over a lifetime. And the psychology stacks up too; if you can do one small thing and make that work, then pushing it to two, three the four doesn’t seem like such a stretch. But, it’s the fact you’ve started small in a manageable, non-over facing and relatively un-impactful way that makes the real difference. And, of course, this ‘Power of One’ doesn’t just work for meat. It’s a starting point for quitting smoking, reducing alcohol or anything you’d like to do in your life but are currently over-faced to the point of inertia. (Another quick example: one less cigarette a day saves 18 packs a year, 44 grams of tar and nearly £200. Just by dropping ONE.)
Each of us conducts our lives in a very personal way. What works for one does not work for another and nobody should be judged, lectured and patronised because their personal life choices do not match our own. But, there are certain life choices that are for the greater good and making them can form a foundation to a positive personal, social and global difference. And if by breaking these down to just one thing, the smallest of steps, this ‘Power of One’ not only becomes eminently achievable but surprisingly profound as well. And, it’s surely better than doing nothing at all?
Jeremy Vine should never have been publicly lambasted and humiliated for eating a ham sandwich. But, advised courteously that avoiding one ham sandwich a week might save the planet from losing thousands of litres of water, his heart from a pile of un-ingested fat and one happy pig from the chop, then this ‘Power of One’ has far more potential than the tiny number suggests.