It Just Takes One

Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor, discovered the impact of germs on proper medical treatment and proposed that doctors scrub their hands before conducting any procedure. For his suggestion, he lost his hospital privileges and was committed to a mental institution. He died 14 days later. Today scrubbing in is a standard in every hospital in the world.

Curt Flood fought against the reserve clause by suing major league baseball. The reserve clause basically ceded all of a player’s employment rights to a team owner. His teammates did not support him. While he lost in a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court, his efforts eventually paved the way for athletes to control their futures. Prior to his death, Congress passed HR21 (Curt Flood’s number) which provided antitrust protections for all athletes.

Virginia Apgar wanted to be a surgeon, but was discouraged from doing so and became an anesthesiologist. When asked by a medical student how she evaluated the health of newborn babies, she created a scale now used by all hospitals. The APGAR scale was simple enough that it could be determined one minute after birth.

Eunice Foote was an amateur scientist at a time when women were not accepted in scientific disciplines. She was the first person to have discovered the warming effects of CO2 in the atmosphere. She was not able to speak at a scientific conference and scientists who followed up on her work gave her little credit. It took 150 years for her to be recognized as the pioneer of our understanding on global warming.

What is the common theme of all of these stories? Certainly each of these individuals made lasting contributions to society. But their efforts often came at a personal cost to them. They made a difference as individuals, often facing ridicule or disdain by those around them. They challenged the status quo by thinking there must be a better way. And they had insight to offer improvements.

Those who make a difference are often reviled. Making a difference is often a singular act brought about by a person with passion for a better way and the creative spark to make breakthroughs in thinking. Is there a reason that it’s hard to find breakthroughs generated by committees or groups? Perhaps that’s because it’s hard to translate personal traits such as passion, courage, conviction, commitment, creativity, and others to a collection of people.

Making a difference is not specific to race, gender, education, age or any other personal trait. It is simply a drive to make the world a better place.

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“I am only me; 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 something I can do.”

– Edward Everett Hale (author, historian, Unitarian minister)

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