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Self-Growth and Society: Does One Person Make a Difference?

Posted Sep 13 2008 12:43am
I heard an interesting question the other day about whether anyone even notices the impact of a single person. Does it matter what we as individuals do? Can we really make any difference at all?

Although the question wasn't directed to me, I had an answer anyway (this may not surprise those of you who know me ).

And this seemed like the perfect place to show the beginnings of that answer, although I just might find myself inspired to create a longer version of these thoughts -- if you'd be interested in this, just let me know.

So here we go....

The short answer is yes, each of us does make a difference.

The long answer involves a few different lines of research about how you feel and what you do.
Directly Connected One-by-One

One of these lines is from studies showing that we have a measurable effect on each other’s physiologies – heart, brain, gut, and everything in-between. We can’t seem to experience strong emotions without influencing other people around us with whom we feel connected. If you've read any of my posts in the Heart Intelligence category, you'll immediately understand why this is so.

There also is a separate line of research showing the same kind of effects from a cognitive direction, rather than physical. In this research, we see an effect called “emotional contagion”. We tend to adopt the emotions of those around us, especially if we are fairly neutral and others are passionate about something – positive or negative.

These two lines of research point to one important way in which how you feel matters very much to other people – if you’re miserable and angry, you just might pull them down with you. On the other hand, if you can put yourself into a good place (and there are ways to learn to do this - think heart coherence for one), you can help everyone else around you to also find themselves in a place of more joy and energy.

But this is an influence of how you feel. What about what you actually do? Does this have the same kind of impact?

Yes, it does and for this evidence we need to turn to physics – the physics of chaos.
There is no "Us" Without a "You"

Human societies are what is called a nonlinear, complex system. Most of “real life” is composed of nonlinear, complex systems – ant colonies, brains, traffic patterns, cities, etc. That simply means that they aren’t perfectly predictable nor are they totally random. Complex systems grow and develop – evolve – by a bottom-up connection between their parts – they actually emerge from a dense network of interactions between smaller parts.

What this means, in the shortest of all possible versions, is that our human world gains its “flavour” from the nations and peoples that make it up. Nations are really just what emerges from the larger communities (think states/provinces), and those emerge from the “flavour” of the smaller communities and neighbourhoods that are part of them.

The implication of this is that every interaction we have with others becomes part of a larger collection of interactions everyone is having with each other – and that creates a circle of contacts, a workplace, a neighbourhood, a Community. Our Communities interact with each other to create regions, the regions interact to create states/provinces, which interact to create nations, which interact to create the world we know.

So although it seems as if we are just a little cog in a humongous wheel that can’t make any difference – the human world exists entirely because of “little” interactions like ours.

If we put together our inner way of being – our emotions and thoughts – with our outer way of being – how we connect with others around us, we can see that we (and everyone else we connect with) are crucial elements in what kind of world we and others experience and create.
For more thoughts on how the little things matter, take a look at my earlier article on The Butterfly Effect. We're all Butterflies.
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