Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
August 25, 2019
The Power of One
You may recognize The Power of One as the title of a novel written by Bryce Courtenay and published in 1990. Courtenay, like the main character Peekay in his novel, grew up in South Africa. Affected by the different cultural and racial divisions of his country, Peekay grows up to understand that through the power of one, he could achieve all his life goals. I mention this not to recommend the novel, though it is a fine one, but to invite you to focus on an obvious fact of life – the power of one.
History is full of instances when one person, or one vote, made an enormous difference. For example, since Courtenay’s novel is about life in South Africa, consider the remarkable difference made in that country by one man whose name was Nelson Mandela. Imprisoned for 27 years, and released when he was 71, he was soon elected the leader of his nation and is credited with ending apartheid, the country’s policy of racial discrimination. Mandela was one person whose courage and character changed a nation.
Considering the racial tensions that continue to afflict America, we would do well to heed Mandela’s words about love and hate: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Imagine the difference one person could make by taking that to heart and, for the rest of his life, intentionally teach others to love their neighbors!
History teaches us the difference one person can make. Consider the following situations when one vote made a difference:
1. In 1645, one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of England.
2. In 1649, one vote cost King
Charles I of England his head. The vote to behead him was 67 against and 68 for
— one vote caused the ax to fall.
3. In 1800, the result of the electoral
college votes was a tie vote for Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. The tie put
the election of President in the hands of the House of Representatives where
Thomas Jefferson was elected our third president by one vote.
4. In 1824, none of the four
Presidential candidates received an electoral majority. The election was thrown
into the House of Representatives, where John Quincy Adams defeated front
runner Andrew Jackson by one vote to become the nation’s 6th president.
5. In 1845, Texas was admitted to
the union as a state by one vote.
6. The Alaska Purchase of 1867 was
ratified by one vote — paving the way for the annexation of America’s largest
state in 1958.
7. In 1868, one vote in the U.S.
Senate saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment.
I came across an interesting story
about the passage of the 19th Amendment to the constitution giving
women the right to vote. Congress began debating the amendment in 1878 but it
was not until 1919 that it narrowly passed both houses of Congress and was sent
to the states to be ratified. When it came time for the Tennessee legislature
to vote, on August 18, 1920, the amendment was one vote short of passing.
The Tennessee legislators were
deadlocked 48 to 48 when it came time for Harry Burn, the youngest of the
legislators, to cast his vote. He had been expected to vote against it, but he
had in his pocket a note from his mother which read, “Dear Son, Hurrah, and
vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt. I noticed some of the speeches
against. They were bitter. I have been watching how you stood, but have not
noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the
‘rat’ in ratification. Your Mother.” He took his mother’s advice and voted
in favor of the amendment. It is said that the young man fled to the attic of
the state capitol and camped out there until the angry crowd downstairs finally
dispersed. Doing what is right often requires courage but character is not
developed in a vacuum!
One person, doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason, can change a relationship, a community, a nation or even the world. Someone reminds us of the power of one with these words:
One tree can start a forest.
One bird can herald spring.
One smile begins a friendship.
One handclasp lifts a soul.
One candle wipes out darkness.
One laugh will conquer gloom.
One hope will raise our spirits.
One touch can show you care.
One life can make a difference.
problems we face in America will not be solved overnight but they can be solved
if one by one, each of us decides to do what we can to restore civility and
kindness to the hallways of our nation. If we are willing to do it, we can find
ways to replace condemnation with commendation, discrimination with
hospitality, insults with respect, and hatred with love. Since everyone speaks
the language of love, we can replace the gutter rhetoric of our day with words
that reflect understanding and good will. We dare not wait until everyone
chooses to do the right thing; each of us must decide to do what we can to
improve cultural civility even if we are the only ones doing it. The unknown poet says it well:
still I am one.
cannot do everything,
still I can do something.
because I cannot do everything,
will not refuse to do the something
I can do.
You are one. You have the power of one. Use it. Begin today. Do what you can to change your world! + + +