“The Ripple Effect”

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I’ve found myself thinking lately about all the little ways that my life, and the way I choose to live it, impacts the people around me . . . and that led me to think about “the ripple effect” that my seemingly simple acts can have — for better or worse — all across my community.

The existence of that ripple effect is most obvious when I think about my kids:

Step 1:  The way that I greet my kids, speak to them, and interact with them will impact the way they think — both consciously and unconsciously — about themselves and their world.

Step 2:  The thoughts and beliefs that they have about themselves and their world will determine whether they approach the world with, for example, “compassion and love,” or “insecurity and fear,” or “anger and despair.”

Step 3:  Which of those approaches each kid adopts will directly impact the quality of his interactions with every other person he meets each day.

And, thereby, the way I interact with my kids — the emotions that I display, the words that I use, and the interpersonal skills that I model — can impact the quality of my kids’ interactions with the rest of the world.

Step 4:  As my kids interact with others, those interactions will further shape my kids’ future behavior and their beliefs about the world and, at the same time, will also shape the beliefs and behaviors of the others with whom my children interact.

Which means the way I behave with my children actually can impact the future thoughts and behaviors of other people!

Step 5:  The impact that my children (and thus I) have on those others can be passed to whomever those others encounter.

And so it continues, on down the line, from one person to another, interaction after interaction.  While the size of the impact attributable to me will dissipate as the steps of interaction move farther from me, it nevertheless remains true that . . . just like when a rock is dropped into a pond . . . the ripple effect created by my impact could travel an amazing distance!!

And, then, once I understood how I can impact others through my interactions with my children, I began to wonder . . . why wouldn’t there be the potential for that same impact and “ripple effect” to occur with every other person whose path crosses mine each day?   After all, while we like to think of adults as fully-formed, stable, consistent, predictable beings, who should “know better” than to allow ourselves to be impacted by another adult’s words or emotions . . . are we, really?   My experiences lead me to believe it is not so.

We adults put on a brave face and act like we understand the world and our role in it, but there is a whole host of reasons why, from one day to the next, a person’s sense of “security” or “stability” might be shaken.  And, in those “unsteady moments,” the smallest compassionate act by another person — just a kind word or a smile — can help steady us, whereas being the recipient of another’s indifference or anger can make us more unsteady, perhaps even toppling us over into “a bad mood,” which we then may “pass on” to everyone else we meet until we find a way to center and steady ourselves again.  Thus, our ability to approach others with compassion, rather than indifference, truly could have a positive impact each day on an inestimable number of people — family members, acquaintances, and strangers — whose paths just happen to cross ours.

In our frantic, over-scheduled, 24-hour world, it’s hard to remember to approach every person, in every moment, with compassion and kindness.   But if each of us tried, for just a few more moments or times than usual each day, to step outside ourselves and approach others with loving-kindness, imagine how many ripples of kindness we might create . . . and then, who knows, maybe somewhere along the way, our ripples of kindness would converge, forming a waves of kindness that could transform entire communities . . .

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