Humans have produced around 13 sextillion (13,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) transistors. This makes the transistor the most produced item in history — about 118 billion transistors for every human being who has ever lived!
We’ve grown accustomed to using extraordinarily enormous numbers. We use terabytes to measure our computer’s hard drive space, we speak effortlessly of trillion-dollar budgets, and we don’t give a second thought to describing a large city as one with at least one million inhabitants. Huge numbers don’t seem to trouble us; we’ve absorbed them into our lexicon with little notice.
Or maybe there is a problem. “Extension neglect” refers to our inability to cope with escalating numbers — the point when larger numbers no longer correlate to a greater, more appropriate response. For example, if a man or woman hears that 1,000 people are homeless due to a recent storm in Florida their empathy won’t increase even if they discover that the true number is 10,000 or 100,000. Numerous studies confirm extension neglect — some numbers are simply too large for us to truly grasp.
There is something that overcomes extension neglect — surprisingly, it’s the number one. It’s difficult to imagine that the number one is more powerful than, say, 13 sextillion yet it is absolutely true. For example, our response to a disease changes the moment a friend or family member is diagnosed with it regardless of its prevalence in the general population. If we know one of the people in Florida displaced by the storm, we are far more empathetic than if we only know that 1,000 people are homeless. Charities seeking to defeat an illness or social condition normally select one person who becomes the “face” of their fundraising efforts — the power of that one recognizable face exceeds the power of huge numbers rolled into statistics. The number one is powerful in its capacity to trigger empathetic, humane responses.
Not surprisingly, God is one and God created us in his own image — one at a time. Recent genome research tells us that even identical twins aren’t exactly alike. Furthermore, personality tests confirm that although we share many emotional similarities, no two people are the same. God creates each of us as a unique person, and when we’re gone, there will never be another person like us. Being one is meaningful – there is a profound consequence in discovering one’s distinctiveness.
When we search for meaning, let’s not jump into the latest fad or fashionable trend — meaning isn’t found in being a face in the crowd. Likewise, let’s not regard others as commonplace — it’s hard to exhibit love for those we find mundane. Instead, contentment and meaning are located in following God’s design — seeing ourselves and others as individuals worthy of affection. We may never be able to tell the difference between a trillion, a billion, or even a million, but when we grasp the power of one we’ll never look at the world the same way again.