I recently read that Google co-founder Sergey Brin asked an audience whether they are working to change the world. He said that for 99.9999% of humanity, the answer is no.
I really dislike that question. It invites arrogance. Say yes and you’re one in a million. You’re a better person than the vast majority of humanity.
Focusing on doing enormous good can make us feel justified in neglecting small acts of goodness. Many have professed a love for Humanity and shown contempt for individual humans. “I’m trying to end poverty, cure cancer, and make the world safe for democracy; I shouldn’t be held to same petty standards as those who are wasting their lives.”
To paraphrase Thomas Sowell, we should judge people by their means, not their ends, because most people don’t achieve their ends and all we’re left with is their means .
In context Brin implies that only grand technological innovation is worthwhile, obviously a rather narrow perspective. Did Anne Frank make the world a better place by keeping a diary? I think so.
The opposite of a technologist might be a medieval literature professor. If you wanted to “change the world” the last thing you’d do might be to choose a career medieval scholarship. And yet two of the most influential people of the 20th century — C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien — were medieval literature professors.
It’s very hard to know what kind of impact you’re going to have in the world. The surest way to do great good is to focus first on doing good.
Related post: Here’s to the sane ones
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 I think Thomas Sowell said something like this in the context of organizations rather than individuals, but I can’t find the quote.