Focusing our efforts on a single person is not something we are really rewarded for doing today, but it is something that has a strong emotional pull for us. We spend a lot of our time writing things for mass audiences every time we tweet, put up a Facebook post, or throw a photo on Instragram. We have access to major platforms and even if we know only a handful of people will ever see what we create, there is an urge to build a production around what we do as if it were to be picked up by the entire nation and communicated to everyone.
Perhaps some of our biggest heroes today are the Silicon Valley business leaders who focus on business models defined by scale. It is never enough to solve just a single problem in that world, you have to solve the problem in every form and permutation it takes on, in an economically efficient way so that no one has a version of that problem any longer. It is an admirable goal.
Our retail models also reward the idea of serving the multitudes. Having a small shop sell your individual thing is great, but if you can be picked up by Walmart, you can make a lot more money. The economic incentives of being able to serve something to everyone is clear, and this idea has spread from business, to parts of our daily lives like problem-solving or basic conversations.
Seneca seems to have grappled with this desire to produce for the masses when he was alive almost 2,000 years ago. Closing a letter to his friend Lucilius he wrote, “I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”
For me, this short quote serves as a reminder that it is important for us to maintain our small relationships and personal connections in our world that has become obsessed with going big. While great opportunities exist if we can go global, we should remember the power and continually cultivate the skill of going small and being incredibly personable.
I’m reminded of this idea when I think about charity. Asking someone to donate to your cause because there are millions of people out there in the world that need help seems like the message you would want to generate to get more donations. You would think, in our world that rewards going big, that we would create the biggest story and the biggest need for donations, but that doesn’t actually work. If you want to activate people to donate, you need to show them a single person they can help. You need to create an individual story of how this one person can make a difference in the life of a single deserving individual. Going small, can have a bigger emotional impact than going big.
So while we think about scale, about reaching ever more social media followers, and dream about being picked up by a national chain, we should remember the importance of the actual relationships we have with the people in our lives. We should remember the audience that we can actually communicate with face to face and cultivate something within ourselves that can truly make a big difference in their individual life. Being able to move our smallest audience can be just as valuable as going big.