Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Butterfly Effect - take 2

Butterfly wings, Garden Pond, Amherst, NH, September 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/290 sec @ f2.8, ISO 50, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

You've heard of The Butterfly Effect, right? Chaos theory, large effects from very small differences in initial conditions, etc. I've even blogged about it before. Well, I just saw a movie by that same title. Now, I'm not going to recommend the movie, per se, but do want to talk about the underlying message.

Why am I not recommending the movie? Well, it is hard to watch at some points. Not for any graphic violence, but instead for some of the physcological inferences. In fact, my wife "walked out" of it (and we were watching it at home ;-) But also, she left at the toughest part it turns out -- the story was just beginning to be told. And upon reflection, it was understandable why they played those heavy-handed cards. Again, I'm not recommending it per se, but I did like the deep, underlying message.

Which was what, exactly? Well, that small differences in initial conditions can have a dramatic impact on people's lives -- yours and others -- in the future. In fact, you are creating that future through the decisions that you make (or don't make) at every moment.

Now this may sound like some new age mumbo jumbo. But just the other day I was reading one of the e-mail missives that I regularly receive, and it was telling a story of profound effects very specific moments can make on people. Consider this seemingly trivial case:
In another case, we asked Kristin, a management consultant, "What is the greatest recognition you have ever received?" Her answer: "Three words in an e-mail." We then found out that when Kristin's mother passed away, a mentor at work whom Kristin had admired throughout her career wrote her a special note. Her mentor's e-mail concluded by saying: "Your mother was very proud of you, and so am I." After 25 years with her company, three simple words carried more meaning than any other recognition Kristin had received in her entire life.
Now there is no way to know which moments will have profound effects. So to me that indicates we need to live from the perspective of 'cause', and not 'effect'. 'Means', and not the 'ends'. What actions are we taking, what decisions are we making, today, right now? Regardless of whether they will be monumental ones in the end or not (for there is no way to know that now). But you have to realize that each moment can potentially have a dramatic effect on someone's life -- and possibly your own.

Like the bishop in Les Miserables. When Jean Valjean is captured by the constables for stealing silverware, and instead of confirming that truth, the bishop creates the potential for another reality when he offers the candlesticks as well, and tells Valjean that he has a soul. Sure, that is fiction (and perhaps a bit too religious for some), but you can imagine or perhaps know yourself situations that have helped to turn around individuals lives that seemed otherwise lost. Oh, the power of those moments and those decisions.

So what is the real point? Only this: seen from this perspective -- every moment, every decision, nay, every life -- plays an essential role in creating our reality. Even death itself will influence the course of events.

Your existence matters, perhaps more than you can imagine. And with that awesome power, comes an equally awesome responsibility. To choose wisely. To awaken to this reality. And to realize the gift you have been given, no matter your circumstances, and to let it form a foundation of gratitude and compassion. For the life you save may not just be your own.


Avantika said...

This reminds me of a line from a poem by Maria Rilke (which I first came across in a Dharma Talk by Les Kaye Roshi of the Kannondo Zen Center)
"Why then have to be human? ... because truly being here is so much; because everything here apparently needs us."

Steven Crisp said...


Thank you for your comment. It brought me to Google to find out more about Rilke, and the Ninth Duino Elegy, from which your quote comes. Yes, thank you for that connection.

It also caused me to read another quote, this time, from Rilke and Benvenuta: an Intimate Correspondence which I found inspiring, and further motivation for the means, and not the ends:

"To be loved means to be consumed. To love is to give light with inexhaustible oil. To be loved is to pass away, to love is to endure."