Chalk it up to middle-aged cynicism or just my mood today, but I immediately dismissed this idea as naive. I like the song and I appreciate its inspirational sentiment. But this artist's intended audience is probably adolescent girls facing peer pressure and a life of possibilities rather than powerful, entrenched interest groups who are highly motivated to maintain the status quo.
What is a single voice in the face of that?
The other side of my brain immediately went to work answering that question. I am often of two minds for a bit. It makes for lively internal debate. What about all of history's dissidents and revolutionaries and whistle-blowers, I countered. What about Martin Luther King? He was one man, but only the most prominent voice in a much greater movement that outlived him. What about Nelson Mandela? Again, a determined, unifying, persuasive mouthpiece for a greater popular movement. What about Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar? I could go on. These people risked everything, spoke truth to power, and helped usher in nationwide transformations.
Then the image of "Tank Man" popped into my head. That is the name given to the courageous, iconic, unidentified man who stood down a column of Chinese tanks rolling toward Tiananmen Square during the 1989 student protests in Beijing.
And look what he has in his hands. Just bags. He's not holding a sign. He doesn't have a weapon. He has no visible symbol of protest anywhere on his person. There is absolutely nothing about him that makes you think he had anything to do with the student agitators in Tiananmen Square. I imagine that he was just an unsophisticated every man on the way home from the grocery store who witnessed something his conscience couldn't ignore and he literally took a stand against it. Nearly 14 years later, that image is just as moving and just as powerful.
Isn't that one voice making a difference?
Let's consider that. 14 years later, the Chinese Communist Party remains one of the very few totalitarian Communist regimes to survive beyond the early 90s. China is more powerful and influential - militarily, economically, politically - than it has ever been. It's biggest export partner is the world's only other remaining super-power, the self-declared champion of democracy.
And what of Tank Man? Neither his identity nor fate can be definitively identified. If he is alive, it's unclear if he even knows of his own international renown as all discussion of the '89 Protests is forbidden and information of the events is censored within China to this day.
So, can one voice transform to world? Undeniably. I am a jaded, somewhat pessimistic atheist, but would our world be the same without the Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Lao Tzu, Muhammad, Confucius?
I'll niggle on one fine point, though. It may be nothing more than semantics, but it seems to me that it is not the singular voice that transforms the world but rather the countless listeners who change themselves. If a man shouts fire in a burning building, he cannot save a single soul if the listeners do not get up and save themselves. His voice only has consequence when it moves others into action.
I'll leave you with another photo of Tank Man. This gives the moment new perspective, revealing just how stunningly bold it was for this small man abandon caution and confront the machine. Change is coming very slowly to China. We can hope this man's defiant example will someday bear fruit, if not in China then hopefully here at home.