Google Dictionary defines ‘Butterfly Effect’ as the phenomenon whereby a minute localised change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere.
The term originates from Edward Lorenz’s research paper, Predictability, from 1972 where he explains using Chaos Theory that a hurricane forming in Texas, USA could be traced back to an ostensibly insignificant act such as a butterfly flapping its wings ‘weeks’ ago in ‘Brazil’. And, that is pretty darn AMAZING! Isn’t it? But unfortunately, in a world where every individual wonders if whatever he/she does will make a difference in the world, the concept of Butterfly Effect seems to be appreciated only in Sci-Fi movies.
We normally measure the significance of an event or action through the number of people it has directly impacted. If we are asked to list a few important events or happenings in the course of human history, the things that usually pop up in our minds are the discovery of fire/electricity/penicillin, invention of wheel/internet, man landing on the moon, abolition of slavery and the likes. Of course all the events above were of great significance to the progress of the human race. Events like these get the spotlight because they have a high degree of direct impact on a huge chunk of the society and hence, attract a lot of media attention and find a way into history texts. This leads most of us to believe that to create a significant impact on the world we must be involved in the ‘Discovery of fire’ equivalent of our respective generation. We are tuned to think that only events causing huge ‘direct’ impact are of any significance. We tend to forget that any single action of ours, no matter how menial it may seem, has its own set of consequences and hence causing a ripple impacting everyone around us indirectly.
“Never laid a hand on her. And that was huge for me. Because it was always the first thing my dad did.”
The photo you see above is from a photography page on Facebook called Humans of New York. Here you see a father holding his daughter’s graduation day picture. On first look we may not think that there is anything special about the picture or the father’s quote but on closer look we can see that the choice this man made to not follow his own father’s footsteps has a greater magnitude of impact than what most people realise. He chose the right path, though not the easier, to make the world a better place not only for his daughter but for the innumerable number of people around him and his daughter. His decision to never hit his daughter helped create a world his daughter saw through her eyes when she grew up which was very different from the one he spent his own childhood in. The world he chose to show her was a world filled with love and care, a world where physical abuse could never possibly be part of her childhood memory, a beautiful world. And, this was the lens through which his daughter saw the world, a place filled with love, a place with less hate, a happier place. Hence he started the ripple with his daughter which then spread to touch all others who knew her, who saw the beauty of the world through her kindness. His choice made the world they all lived in a whole lot happier and beautiful. And it still doesn’t end there; the ripple continues coursing through the vastly interconnected web of human race over time and thus impacting the lives of one and all and making the world a better place.
One of the top commenters on the photo has said, “He broke the cycle”. Here the father chose to end generations of dreaded childhood, which could have carried on further for generations beyond his daughter’s. He could have easily chosen to accept that physical abuse was a normal part of disciplining the young. We humans usually tend to think, “Why should they deserve any better from what I got when I was in their position? The world wasn’t very fair to me, why should I be fair to them?” And this is truly what makes doing the right thing commendable. Someone has to stop this domino effect. Someone had to be the change and it is never easy to fight our own ego and insecurities and be the one to ‘break the cycle’. It would be an even more difficult decision if it is a total stranger that we have to choose to be kind to. Kindness is a habit. Like any other habit, once you get used to being kind, it becomes part of your lifestyle. And in no time you start your own ripples of kindness wherever life takes you, making the world around an infinitely more happier place. If that is not a great contribution to mankind, I don’t know what is.
So, the next time you ask yourself, “What difference am I going to make?” remember the ripple our actions create in the vastly interconnected web of mankind we live in. We don’t necessarily have to be an elected representative of the government or a social rights activist to make significant changes to the society. We just have to realise the power and the consequences of our actions and lead a life that has a positive impact on others around you. We have choose to be the change we wish to see in the world today, and not just complain and whine till half the world has already changed and then follow the herd. So the next time when you don’t know where to throw the chocolate wrapper, keep it in your pocket or purse till you find garbage bin. Switch off that fan, if it is not in use. Smile at your security guard because your smile might be the best thing happening to him on the day and the smile cost you nothing.
Here’s a video which went viral on social media a couple of years ago which beautifully depicts how your random act of kindness sets off a ripple making the world a better place.