Take a trip back with me to those halcyon days of 2002. Back when I was in 5th grade a game would come out that would set the template for an great number of copy cat titles. That game is Medal of Honor Allied Assault. Fear not though, this post is not about this game. It is a great game no doubt, with a number of high quality sequels (although the further out you get from the original the worse they get). No this post is really about the game's intro. Take a gander at it here. Did you catch the last line?

Can one man truly make a difference?

Normally we can all just roll our eyes at the omission of both genders, but that oversight is kind of a big deal here because I want to apply that question to this article. Our protagonist is Alayne Fleischmann, who was employed by JPMorgan Chase during the recent financial crisis. Her story is a good one so I suggest you read the whole article before continuing.

Having read that, let us take stock of the results:

  • Mrs. Fleischmann told people at JPMorgan what they were doing was fraud
  • JPMorgan laid her off.
  • JPMorgan paid the government 9 billion partially due to her testimony.
  • No executives were charged.

By some accounting, yes she did make a difference. JPMorgan was so afraid of her testimony that they worked very hard to pay off penalties so she could not testify. But I am going to postulate that no, she did not make a difference. Show me the executives who lost their jobs, show me that JPMorgan does business fundamentally differently, show me the laws that enforce greater oversight (counterpoint). Granted, It is a bit unfair to look at these complex organizations and judge their interactions to find a clear difference in operation. I get that, but I doubt it provides any solace to Mrs. Fleischmann, who lost her job, who dealt with the legal fallout for years, and who is unemployed according to Wikipedia. Show me she made a difference.

It is a shame right? She ought to have something to show for it, something should have changed? And here we arrive at the point: acting to your ideals is the only reward you deserve. It is great when things work out. Wrongs are righted, justice is delivered, lifetime movies are made, the works. Plenty of times though you act expecting the cherry and get the pit. You can be exiled from your country, you can be on the losing side, you can even die. The only reward these people deserve is the satisfaction of acting to their ideals. After that nothing else is guaranteed.

In a way it is depressing to think this, that you can do good and nothing can change. I would instead postulate a different analysis, that understanding this is the way of things is liberating. I do not need good things to happen, the universe does not owe me a reward for being on my best behavior. I just need to be true to myself and I can be content with the outcome.

This is why I am so happy people like Mrs. Fleischmann exist. She acted against her own financial interest knowing the outcome was in doubt because her morals were so strong, such a core part of her being that to not act would have changed her. It would have made her something she did not want to be.

She did make a difference, for herself. She was tested, her morality was tested, and she made a choice to be true to herself. You only need one person to do that.