Monday, December 22, 2008

The Ripple Effect

The snow has left me a little housebound, and the break from the normal routine gives me moments to think…no small feat with a wee hangover from last night’s neighborhood party. What particularly hit me was how our words carry weight and can have an effect beyond what we can see or is immediately perceptible to us…ergo the ripple effect. Just like a stone tossed into the calm waters of a pond, the splash of our initial comment is often our primary focus. Yet if we continue to watch we see the ripples emanate in all directions, often in perfect symmetry as the laws of nature are obeyed and sometimes for great distances. True, the magnitude of the wave diminishes as it stretches into ever-increasing circumferences and eventually beyond what we can perceive.

It reminds me of a tsunami, which is really a ripple that emanates from a seismic event deep below the surface of the ocean. Just a few years ago we saw the devastating effect of such a ripple. It was virtually undetectable to the ships it passed beneath in the ocean until the shallow seabed raised it into a series of tremendous waves that wiped out buildings and swept thousands of people out into the sea.

So it is with our words. What we say and the manner in which we say it, can have a significant effect on others…often beyond what we can immediately see. We have all had our hearts warmed…or perhaps stung, by the words of others. Sometimes those words are deliberately meant to cut into us, and other times it may be a thoughtless or idle comment that hurts. Those of us with children have seen that effect all too often. As a parent I have seen my own words, spoken in an impatient moment leave a wound on my child. Even a hastily said “not now, I’m busy” can sting to a child seeking a moment of sharing, that later I have had to seek forgiveness and dress that wound. Had I taken an instant to say something different, or perhaps in a different way, the wound would not be there in the first place.

I am by no means perfect…none of us are. Yet I do strive to measure what I say, whether it is my child, a partner, a neighbor, a waitress, even a clerk helping me at the mall. My goal is to brighten someone else’s day…to lighten their mood.

What will you say today?

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