I recently came across the source of what I’ve been hearing for years, that a butterfly can move its beautiful wings on one side of the world and its effect is felt on the other side. The tiniest of actions produces unimaginable results.
Best-selling novelist and motivational speaker Andy Andrews also wrote the small book The Butterfly Effect to explain that the smallest act matters and that each life matters. It isn’t a difficult read at all but does require an open mind to take in known facts and an open heart to understand the impact of what he’s saying.
When we understand that everything matters, the results of our actions become more meaningful rightaway. One negative comment at work can demoralize an entire team but one positive response to a huge layoff, for example, can give remaining teammates the courage to keep working with dedication and thus earn income to pay our bills, buy things, and keep other people employed in society. We all need to vent sometimes but we also need to steer clear of the office gossip when doing so.
In 1963, mathematician Edward Lorenz presented a hypothesis to the New York Academy of Science, saying that a butterfly could flap its wings on one side of the world and the molecules of air that were displaced in turn moved other molecules of air and eventually a storm would arise on the other side of the earth. (Or, as has been said, its wing movement might have prevented a storm for that matter.)
Scientists being who they are, Lorenz was laughed out of the conference. But his idea was not new. And thirty years after he presented it, physics professors worldwide reached the conclusion that it was viable and accurate. Later it was given the status of a “law” called The Law of Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions. And it applies to far more than the weather. For example, it applies to human beings and their actions.
In straightforward language, Andy Andrews writes about people who might not have acted or lived to save the lives of billions of people. People like Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the Union Army, whose critical decision to throw his 80 remaining men into a full-out charge at Gettysburg at the end of the Civil War saved what is now the United States. He made it possible in the 20th Century for our now powerful nation to fight WWII on two fronts at the same time. One man who made one decision that affects all of us today.
It is remarkable what else is covered in a book that takes 20 minutes or so to read. For example, the author briefly recounts a few highlights of George Washington Carver’s life: he developed 266 things from the peanut, 88 things from the sweet potato. The brilliant George pointed Henry Wallace in the right direction to becoming Secretary of Agriculture and then Vice-President of the United States. Wallace in turn hired Norman Borlaug to develop the hybridized corn and wheat that were drought and disease resistant. The crops saved billions of people worldwide from famine.
Taking a step back from that, what about a nearly dead baby bartered for and renamed George Washington Carver by Moses and Susan Carver who rescued him after Quantrill’s Raiders burned the Carvers’ farm, killed a number of people, and dragged off baby George’s mother, Mary Washington? If the Carvers hadn’t made the decision to go get the baby when they realized his mother was dead and then fight to save his life, what would the world have lost?
We are each of us unique on this earth, in this universe. No one else’s spirit is like ours. No one else thinks like we do. No one else feels pain or joy like we do. No one else can do what we can do. What we do does matter. We matter. We are here on earth to make the kind of difference that no one else can make. And we don’t know how many generations of people our actions are going to influence. It doesn’t matter whether they are our direct descendants or not.
We can be the butterfly that changes the world.