When considering our life’s legacy, it would seem that most people think about their kids, their job, their community service and the corresponding long-term impact. As life’s ripples go, these are indeed the ones that will have the largest and most noticeable effect on others.
But what about the smaller ripples? You’ve heard of the butterfly effect: how an apparently insignificant event in one part of the world can cause ripples across the globe. We see this effect play out in the human drama all the time: a tourist or reporter, in the wrong place at the wrong time getting arrested and creating an international incident (Louisa Lim), or a single person’s act of defiance (such as the man blocking the tanks at Tienanmen Square in 1989) or courage (Rosa Parks) inspiring the world. In this era of instant and global communication, a single blog, tweet or posting can also cause baby ripples that eventually magnify into a tsunami.
Our lives are made up of an infinite number of baby ripples, that together, can cumulatively create the equivalent of a tsunami. Often these baby ripples are created without our notice. As a parent, I’m acutely aware of how what seems like an innocuous statement can have lasting impact on a child. That impact can be either positive or negative. Either way, it’s all too easy to have a profound influence on someone’s world view or self-perception, and not even realize it.
We also can unwittingly impact others outside our family, ranging from friends, colleagues, acquaintances, or even mere strangers. This impact may also be positive or negative. Sometimes a kind word, look, or gesture can have a tremendously positive impact on someone who is struggling, while a cruel, careless or unkind word, look, or gesture can also have a tremendously negative impact on someone who, up until that time, has been doing well. In Anatomy of Peace, the Arbinger Institute contends that war (manifest as dehumanization) begins within the heart of a single person. That person’s hate recruits others to hate as well, until you have the tsunami of war.
Even if we do nothing against our fellow man, our mood and emotions affect others. Ever notice how moods are contagious? We may not notice the impact of our anger, depression, aggression or hostility on others, but that does not mean those emotions are not contagious. Similarly, our joy, gratitude and acceptance can positively influence how others feel. I have heard some people say that if they’re unhappy, then they want everyone else to feel it. I have to ask the question: Why? Isn’t life hard enough without you contributing to that? How does that really help you? Is that really the legacy you wish to create?
So, what kind of wake are you leaving, as you create baby ripples in your life? What is your legacy… in this moment? Is it something you’re proud of?