This morning outside of 7-11, my coffee station of choice, I met a gentleman named Mel. He said it was his 53rd birthday and he was asking folks for change for a phone call. My default reaction is to say no, or cough up a few bucks. But today I forked over a twenty and proceeded to talk to Mel for a little under an hour. Serendipity had combined with fortune to educate me.
After introductions Mel told me about his family of 11 siblings and how he grew up on 40 acres in a rural part of Florida. We chatted about social change and connecting with individuals. I described the power of social media, enabling anyone to send a message to many, and the democracy of attention. But he said he doesn't use computers much. After much listening on my part, Mel broke our society down into three categories.
For Mel people are a nebulous group. People can be mean, or cold and ruthless. People don't have a heart, they don't have empathy. People for Mel is any sized group. I tried to argue that small groups of people can be very powerful agents of change. They can lead movements that bring attention to areas of our society that need our care and time. But for Mel, people were incapable of acts of kindess, those he attributed to "Somebody". I suggested that just he and I talking were "people" but in his categorization we were individuals, and our conversation was rare. When I mentioned I meet folks all the time online in very casual conversational social media environments, he didn't believe that such weak ties could compare to face to face communication to which I nodded in agreement. Living in a world and society dominated by Mel's concept of people would be terribly cold. I can't help but believe his classification is off or at the very least there is still great untapped potential for People.
This is the archetype for good, the leader, the change maker in Mel's world view. An individual can be somebody or nobody. Somebody can take action, somebody can instigate change, somebody can move mountains. We should all aspire to Mel's vision of somebody. He also suggested that great leaders in our history such as Martin Luther King Jr. tried to change people, which is an impossible task, and ultimately require a huge sacrifice. I told him that although I see many areas of our society and culture that need change, I search for the smallest problems. My instinct is that from affecting change in numerous hyper focused areas, large social change for the better can emerge. A great harvest can only happen by planting a seed at a time. I suggested his message is worth sharing, and blogging is a great platform for spreading an individual message. But with every positive there is an opposite, and for Somebody it's antithesis is Nobody.
According to Mel "if an individual is Nobody they may as well be deleted". He asked if I knew what Nobody meant. I shrugged, then weakly nodded, how could I know what his definition entailed? He described the features of Nobody. They are individuals who are powerless, strangled by internal demons such as addiction. A Nobody is hopeless, in isolation. I got the feeling that they are damned. Nobody was incapable of affecting positive change. To fall into Mel's category of Nobody one must truly be in a trajectory rocketing towards oblivion.
I had many more questions for Mel but our time was running short. He asked for a ride, and my phone number. I was leary of getting late night calls for rides, so I suggested he email me so we could talk again. He declined. Unfortunately, in Mel's eyes I think I'm just people, but at least I can keep striving to be Somebody.