“Thank you for what you said in class today. It was exactly what I needed to hear.”
My ears prick up when I hear these words. Whenever someone says this, I’m curious rather than self-congratulatory. The pearl of wisdom that I craft and practice and pat myself on the back for is never what they are talking about. Nope. The things that people remember, the things that make a difference are the almost always ones that I don’t think about at all but pop out from whoknowswhere.
Sometimes I feel shaky and uneasy when I think of my words, especially the ones that I don’t think much about, landing in people’s ears and making an impact. Especially since the ones people tell me about are the helpful ones but those aren’t the only kinds of impact my words have made.
This is true for all of us. We make our way through the world making connections whether we realize it or not. The choices we make when we interact with our children, partners, friends, colleagues, neighbors and strangers all ripple out in ways that mostly we will never, ever know.
Of course, we can’t control how our words or choices land with another person. There are a myriad of complicated interpersonal dynamics at play even in the act of saying good morning. But if we pretend that our choices are made in isolation, that we aren’t inextricably connected with each other and our environment, then we are blind to the part we play in the world. If we assume what we do doesn’t matter, we are missing a huge chunk of the picture.
And the chain of connection extends beyond how you speak to people. The chain of connection extends to what you buy, how you spend your time, what occupies your thoughts, what you eat and what kind of packaging it comes in. Recognizing the ripple effect of our choices means that I understand the price that someone is paying for the cheap clothes or food or gas I buy. By seeing the interconnectedness of all things, I understand that a few hours wiled away on Facebook means that those hours were not spent doing something else.
It can feel overwhelming, I grant you. There are times when I just want to be a little inconsequential woman who can do her thang without strumming on the threads that connect me to everything. But it doesn’t work that way. The chains of connection is happening whether I see it or not. And once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
Recognizing the chains of connection is recognizing that I am paying it forward all the time, with everything I do. The question is what is the currency I’m paying with? Am I paying with self-centeredness? kindness? fear? gratitude? thoughtlessness? Seeing the chains of connection invites me to do my best to pay attention to my choices – and reminds me of the endless outward ripples from each one.