Ripple Effects

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect describes how a seemingly minor and insignificant action can cause massive consequences elsewhere, e.g. a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil causing a hurricane in Texas. Every decision we make, every word we speak, every single thing that we choose to do or not do has consequences. Whether good or bad, seen or unseen, everything that we do sends an invisible wave outward into the world around us and as those waves reach other people, they react and send their own waves out in turn. These waves are ebbing and flowing, rippling back and forth all around us constantly, silently influencing what we do and how we feel, think and act. Sometimes we’re aware of it but more often than not we are blissfully unaware of the myriad of ripples coming at us from every direction, guiding the course of our lives. And we’re almost always unaware of the waves we’re sending out into the world ourselves.

We don’t realize that the words we say in anger this morning to our wife will reinforce her feelings of inadequacy from childhood and that will cause her to reflect sadly during breakfast while her son looks on over the whole scene. We don’t see that our trying on a swimsuit and critiquing our body and all of its perceived flaws will cause our daughters to look more closely in the mirror at their own bodies and wonder what unknown flaws are lurking there. The girlfriend whose man fails to compliment her new haircut or the dinner she worked so hard on feels similarly disheartened and discouraged as the husband whose wife points out the one thing he didn’t do on his day off while failing to thank him for the dozen things he did accomplish. Words said in anger and words left unsaid, doing what we think is right for one person while causing unforeseen pain to another, there are a million different ripples that we send out into the world with every single thing that we do. What’s more, the ripples we send out effect the ones sent out by the next person, and the next, and so on and on and on. How many times have you been having a perfectly good day and then a clerk at the grocery store gives you attitude and after that some guy cuts you off in the parking lot and suddenly, your mood has gone sour and you’re irritable? Before you know it your mother calls you to say hello and you’re impatient and unkind, hurting her feelings when that’s the last thing you intended to do!

We fool ourselves into believing that we are in control and thinking for ourselves when often, we’re anything but. Most of the time, we’re nothing more than tiny beach balls floating in the ocean, allowing ourselves to be tossed around in the waves coming at us from every direction. The problem is that our perception is so often skewed by our past and the individual filters we have in place. A seemingly innocuous statement can be completely hurtful or offensive to someone based solely on the way they interpret what was said. What we see and hear is not necessarily what was said or intended. We’re all so self-focused and obsessed that we fail to take into consideration the possibility that it’s not all about us, that in fact we’ve misinterpreted the data completely.

The internet is full of “Influencers” but I wonder if the folks who strive for that title truly understand all that it entails. We constantly compare ourselves to others and in this age of social media, we compare our real lives to the carefully crafted, not at all realistic lives of those on our screens and we come away feeling inadequate and less than worthy. We spend far too much time reading the ramblings of people who spew vitriol from behind their keyboards and take it all in whether we think we are or not. We find validity in the number of likes or followers or shares we have. We allow our political beliefs, our moral compass, our identities to be shaped by the waves of influence coming at us online. We’re so busy “living our best lives” while simultaneously wallowing in our perceived victim statuses and feeling sorry for ourselves. But if we can’t consciously understand how the input we receive is shaping our lives, how can we ever hope to ensure that the data we send out is meaningful and in line with our intentions?

The reality is that we’re all influencers and we’re all being influenced. Our best option is to become aware of both the ripples coming at us and the ones that we’re sending out. Understanding that is key and it will allow us to accept the input for what it is, simply input. We have the choice in how we react to it and whether we let it shape our day, our lives, our beliefs. I don’t understand why, but negativity is so much easier to latch on to than positive input. Because it’s so much more appealing to us, we find ourselves angry, outraged, divided and unwilling to bend. But what about the positive input? Why is it so much easier to believe something negative than something positive? We must train ourselves to pause and discern whether the input we’re receiving is being interpreted correctly or not. Is what I’m feeling the same thing as what was intended with those words or actions, or is it my own issue being projected onto it? Is the criticism I’m getting valid or is this simply the case of someone being a seagull, crapping on my contribution but offering no real constructive feedback? If I’m receiving positive feedback, can I genuinely accept that without qualifying and negating it due to my own insecurities?

Rather than letting ourselves be blindly tossed about in the waves rippling all around us, let’s decide today to pay more attention to what’s coming at us and more importantly, what we’re sending out. Rather than allowing ourselves to react to negativity in kind, let’s recognize that the anger itself is simply energy being transferred from one person to another and let’s decide to let it drop right where it is. Rather than take it in and transfer it to the next person, let it end there and instead choose to continue our day in contentment. Moreover, let’s acknowledge the compliments and positivity all around us and let’s seek to share that more, even when it’s not what we’re receiving. You have no idea what the person coming at you with negativity endured this morning or this week or last year. That clerk that’s giving you an attitude, tell her you like her earrings and wish her a wonderful day. The guy that cuts you off, smile at him and let the guy behind him go as well. Choose today to stop sending out as many negative ripples as possible and intentionally send out more happiness and love. Can you imagine what the world would look like, how all of us would feel if just a fraction of us chose to do this every day? If positivity was the common currency and it was able to replace all the ugliness that surrounds us on a daily basis? Call me crazy and ridiculously optimistic but I believe it’s possible. The only person standing in the way is us, so what are we waiting for?

Copyright 2019, all rights reserved.  All images taken by me unless otherwise stated.

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