Today, let's consider your power to influence --
and to heal. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
A powerful thing happened
the other day. I talked with a friend. He had a
problem. He needed advice. I was feeling
ineffective and depressed. I said, "Look, I'm too
bummed out to be of any use to you."
I went away uneasy. We'd been so little use to each
other. How much use is anyone to someone else who's
down? That evening, the phone rang. He was back. "I
have an idea for your program. Why don't you talk
about the relative scale of cause and effect?"
I was puzzled. "What do you mean?" So he went on.
"How many man-years have you spent writing your
radio spot?" I calculated 2½ years. "Ok," he
said, "How long have those programs run on the
air?" This time I got only 32 hours.
He drove the point home. "That's 2½ years'
work for only 32 hours of product! That looks
pretty grim. -- Now, how many man-years have people
spent listening to you?" This time I calculated
6000 years*. 6000 years would reach all the way
back into the late Stone Age.
So ask that question in your life. Are you a
schoolteacher? How vast is the spread of your
effect in the world? Are you a shopkeeper? Leave
off concerns about inventory and profit margin.
Think about people you've supplied. Think about the
reach of your influence into everyday life.
Are you a garbage collector or a physician? If
you're either one, you need have little doubt about
your value in thousands of lives. But some deal in
more subtle services. How does a pure mathematician
gauge his or her effect?
For most of us, life is a series of problems -- all
imperfectly solved. The real fruit of our efforts
lies somewhere on the other side of those problems.
There, our creative best reaches people in far
larger ways than it first might seem.
My friend made his point subtly and creatively. He
gave me a way to see my work in more dramatic terms
than I'd been able to.
But he also made the point in a second, less
obvious, way. He hadn't just called to suggest a
program idea at all. He'd called to cheer me up --
to express concern.
That's influence of a different order. And it's all
too rare. He made his point and he role-modeled it.
He did show me how our creative best has the power
to influence. But he also showed me that it really
does give us means to heal each other -- after all.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds