“If I look at the mass, I never act. If I look at the one, I do.”
Mother Teresa said that. She was a wise woman.
Last weekend, I was reminded how true that quote is. I went home to visit my folks and on Friday night after dinner, we settled down to watch one of the most moving films I’ve seen in a long time.
Set in Newcastle, I, Daniel Blake documents the trials of 59-year-old carpenter, Dan. After suffering a heart attack, he gets trapped in the welfare system’s nightmarishly complex web of bureaucracy. The situation drags him into abject poverty and eventually…well, I won’t spoil it for you.
Of course, some say that the film paints an unfairly negative picture of the system. People will always be biased about this sort of thing.
But whichever side of the fence you sit, you can’t deny the many recognisable truths in the story.
Anyone can relate to the frustrations with call centres, for example. The waiting time to speak to someone. Staff who are unwilling to think outside of the box and who, frankly, don’t give a shit about your problems.
It’s a harrowing watch. From the relentless catch-22, tail-chasing circle of limited options, to his helplessness with online applications and the lack of empathy and compassion from job centre staff.
It left us all in tears, and it’s the first thing in a long time that’s actually inspired me to help.
Mother Teresa was right. We care more about individuals than we do about random masses. Give us statistics and a general overview and it means nothing. But show us one person’s plight and suddenly, it matters. We can see their suffering clearly, and imagine how awful it would be in their position.
That’s the very reason why charities often tell you the story of one specific person, rather than listing the problems of a population as a whole. If it’s too big an issue, we can’t get our heads round it. We don’t think we can make a difference, so we don’t act.
But the story of one person? That’s much easier to absorb, and infinitely more motivating.
I, Daniel Blake moved me to do two things:
- Buy a couple of extra items a week to donate to the local food bank. And,
- Apply to volunteer, giving time to help in whatever way the food bank needs.
So there you go. When you’re writing stories, use one specific individual to bring it alive.
The masses move nothing – it’s all about the power of one.