The most important person in the world

December 18, 2010 by · 4 Comments 

You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again. ~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Do some people matter more than others? In a tabloid culture, an inordinate premium is placed on anyone rich or popular, the antics of celebrities and millionaires receiving more attention than the mortal struggles of women and children.

In the U.S., the gap between fame and obscurity, wealth and poverty, power and powerlessness manifests itself most starkly in centers of influence like Washington, Los Angeles and New York.

America is based on the noble idea of equality, but principle and practice are two very different things and some people are more equal than others, with disproportionate privileges and prestige. This holds true across the planet.

Counterintuitively, the most important people in the world are those who have the least, those who are the most oppressed, those who are victims of the worst violence.

We are only as strong and powerful and important as the weakest link in the human chain. When a little girl is gang-raped, when a child wastes away from preventable hunger, when a man is silenced for his beliefs, when a woman dies needlessly in childbirth, when a little boy lives in agony from a preventable disease, we are all weakened, our worth diminished.

When the resources of the rich and famous are put to use to help those in need, it is because the highest moral calling is to give to others, to extend a hand to those who need one.

If character is built on compassion and generosity of spirit, the most important person in the world is the one who most needs our compassion, care and generosity, the person who enables us to improve ourselves by helping them, who gives us value because we value them.

With all the namedropping and idol-worshiping served to us by the media, with the dazzling displays of money and fame and power, let’s never forget who matters most in this world: it is the person to whom we give something of ourselves — and from whom we derive our moral power.

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4 Responses to “The most important person in the world”
  1. Karen Bradley says:

    Peter, I can’t tell you how gratified I am to see this post. In 2007, I had come to the conclusion that the race to the SUV had won over the causes of compassion and just actions. I have found places where such causes are everyday concerns; none of them D.C., but it is good to read your words and feel the heart in them.

  2. D, Patrick says:

    Absolutely brilliant!

    “Character is built on compassion and generosity of spirit. The most important person in the world is the one who most needs our compassion, care and generosity, the person who enables us to improve ourselves by helping them, who gives us value because we value them.”

    I shall be quoting you, Dear Sir!

  3. Ellen Brown says:

    This is one of the best essays I have read in a great while. It gives me heart to know that people stil feel this way–we see such little evidence of it in our popular culture. Thank you!

  4. George Colombo says:

    A wonderfully well written, exceptionally well conceived piece. It is heartbreaking to consider the degree to which the values reflected in this essay have disappeared from the American landscape.