Creon is the king from Antigone who orders the death of his niece, Antigone, for burying a traitor to the state. This is an imaginary question/answer from him, which he answers with an objective mind, after his death and having seen the present time.
Creon is asked, “does the individual really make a difference?”
This question should be rephrased as “is it realistically possible for the individual to make a meaningful difference”? Next, we need to define “meaningful difference.” It is all too easy to impact society negatively—through thievery, waste, or such as in my decision over Antigone’s fate, but the real challenge is to improve the world and those around you, and this is what we think of as “making a difference.” Doubtlessly, this is easier with those you are in close contact with—friends, family, and the citizens of your local community, as those are the ones who you have the most influence on. Making an impact across a continental nation such as the United States, in issues such as the recycling of paper and plastic products, or in helping the millions that are poor or homeless, is a harder task. Still, one finds solace in the fact that he or she is one of many who are helping to solve such issues, one link in the chain, so to speak. Even the largest task is started with a single action, a lowly ant is part of a thriving colony, a single soldier is essential to the great Theban army, one juror is the core of an entire democratic legal system.
In a position of power, such as myself as the king of Thebes, starting societal changes is far more possible. It takes a wise person to do good, however, and I look back with regret for denouncing Teiresias, and the domino effect that my mistaken decision to execute Antigone caused; I ended up following in the footsteps of Oedipus before me, a king blinded by stubbornness. Just as it is easier to lose a patient than to save him or her, it is simpler to do bad rather than good. It is cowardly to never back down; far braver is it to be the objective analyst who can acknowledge missteps. Those with the strength to do the latter are the ones who make a difference and improve the world, be it in their private affairs, or by helping to turn the tide in polluting corporations, unjust governments, or corrupted churches. Common sense and experience must prevail over authority and principle, for no book of laws can replace human reasoning. I recall lecturing Haemon, “Whoever the city shall appoint to rule, that man must be obeyed, in little things and great things, in just things and unjust” (541-543). What a pity it would be if Americans had subscribed to this, as then they would still be paying a premium for tea and sugar as a part of the British Empire! Yes, an individual really can make a difference, but be it by quitting smoking or by helping to reverse global warming, it takes a willingness to recognize faults, a commitment to improving, and the persistence to convince others to do the same.
Sophocles. Antigone. [c. 440 B.C.E.]. As published in The Humanistic Tradition, Vol. 1, Fifth Edition on pages 85-94 by Gloria K. Fiero. London: Laurence King Publishing, Ltd., 2006.