Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Butterfly Power

Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does.
                                                                        William James

Each year, my cousin participates in organizing a project for “Make a Difference Day.” I remember one year when they decided on an environmental project aimed at restoring mangroves along the Florida coastline and removing pepper trees which had invaded the coastline creating unfavorable conditions for the native plants and animals. Over 300 people of all ages were involved in the project. Not only did they begin the transformation and restoration of a beautiful area for plants and other wildlife, but they also created a strong sense of community and belonging.

On a MUCH smaller scale, at a restaurant one morning for breakfast, I noticed that the waitress was having a hard day and working especially hard. I felt that I was able to connect with her briefly, hear her story and thank her sincerely.

Edward Lorenz, considered one of the founders of chaos theory, was a meteorologist who was testing a model of weather prediction. In taking a mathematical shortcut, he discovered that a tiny change in the formula drastically affected the outcome. He posed the question of whether the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas.

How interconnected is each aspect of the universe? Do our actions, words and thoughts impact the world around us? Lorenz discovered that “although humans dream of the power of prediction and control. . . in nature, society and our daily lives, chaos rules through the butterfly’s power.”

Oftentimes in day-to-day life, we can feel pretty insignificant. It can be hard to imagine that our actions have much impact. We sometimes feel isolated and simply focus on our individual responsibilities and let the rest take care of itself. The idea that I can “flap my wings” and create ripple effects extending far beyond me is both exciting – and a little scary. I feel a sense of responsibility and connection to the world around me.

“The social sum total of everybody’s little everyday efforts, especially when added together, doubtless releases far more energy into the world than do rare heroic feats.” Robert Musil.

I am awed by those individuals, like my cousin, who manage ‘heroic feats’, whose efforts positively impact the earth and so many individuals. It’s exciting to hear about and imagine the positive ripples. I’m also aware of the almost imperceptible stirring I cause when I ‘flap my wings’ consciously.

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