One of my classes has just finished off The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. The book addresses the concept that small things can make a big difference. I use this book to help them think more broadly about selling the message of preparedness.
This notion that small things can make a big difference is tied to a theory that is near and dear to my heart – chaos theory (the conceptual framework of this theory is also known by a number of other names such as complexity theory, non-linear dynamics, etc.). One of the main tenets of chaos theory is sensitivity to initial conditions.
That sensitivity sometimes means that small things can make a big difference. This is evident in everyday life. You can evidence this in yourself. You may notice that on occasion one thing, however small, puts you in a bad mood. That mood doesn’t dramatically change who you are, but it subtly changes the way you are viewing and interacting in the world. Conversely, one small thing can put you in a great mood which also subtly changes your lens on the world.
If you look for this phenomenon in your every day life and pay attention to it you will find that being able to identify and affect the lens you are using is powerful stuff. There is hardcore theory that underlies this reality. Chaos theory comes out of the quantum physics realm which is enough to make anyone go screaming in the other direction. But, you don’t need to understand all the minutia of the theory to understand the message that small things can make a big difference.
It is my understanding of this theory that helped me to realize that one of the most profound things an individual can do in this life to change the world is to perform small acts of kindness whenever possible. My mom taught me this concept through actions not words, but it wasn’t until I had to write the eulogy for her funeral that I fully appreciated that her contribution to the world was more about a thousand small drops of water than a big splash. My mom understood this notion that small kindnesses can make a big difference and she practiced it daily.
Has anyone ever taken the time to compliment you on an outfit or a hairstyle? Perhaps they commented on how funny or smart you are, or how charming you are…pick any compliment and insert it here. Compliments are really small kindnesses. Taking the time to note and appreciate something about someone else is an act of kindness that many of us practice every single day. Now, think about when you are the recipient of such a compliment. It sticks with you doesn’t it? Even more so when a casual interaction with someone you do not know or barely know results in such a compliment…it matters and it makes a difference.
I try and remember in my day to day life that I have the power to affect not only my lens but others. I know that smiling and saying hello to a stranger can matter in the big scheme of things. I know that sharing with someone that they look great in blue can change a person’s wardrobe selections (yes, this was me – one compliment on a blue top a few years back and I suddenly starting wearing blue a few days a week). Opening the door for another person, offering a smile and being polite and gracious generally has an effect on that person and in turn creates a ripple effect outward.
One small drop matters and it ever so slightly changes a universe that is sensitive and interconnected – when multiplied this effect can be profound. After all, it is the culmination of all these small drops that ultimately create the proverbial ocean that is our humanity. You don’t have to understand quantum physics to understand that your interaction in this world affects others which in turn affects others beyond those you have touched.
I don’t know if my mom understood how profound an impact her small kindnesses could have on others in the bigger picture. I don’t think she analyzed it from a theoretical perspective like her daughter is inclined to do. I think she did it because she understood from her own life how valuable these small kindnesses were. So today, whether you are a quantum physicist or not, be purposeful in practicing small kindnesses and realize that your smile, kind word or gracious gesture is the kind of stuff that changes the world ever so slightly – and small changes can make a big difference.
Day seventy-four of the new forty – obla di obla da