“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
“We are all broadcasters, and our family, friends, coworkers, and even the strangers we meet are our viewers. We have the same power as journalists. […] The messages we choose to broadcast shape others’ views of the world and how they operate within it.” – Michelle Gielan
One of my close friends recently told me about how he was impacted by two people who don’t even know he exists.1 These two men weren’t celebrities or famous thought leaders, but rather ordinary people, going about their days in extraordinary ways.
A Father’s Presence and Joy in Struggle
From his office window, every few weeks my friend notices the same man pushing a stroller down the street. But rather than standing behind the stroller, the man walks right next to it – fully present and engaged with his child, talking and pointing out various things on the street. That simple action has had a profound impact, inspiring at least one person to be a better father.
The second encounter occurred once, in passing, but was no less significant. A man who appeared to have two legs of different heights was struggling to walk. Every step seemed painful, but you wouldn’t have known it from the look on his face. As my friend described it, he had a smile that looked like he “just made a pretty girl laugh.” Even though he was struggling to do something that so many of us take for granted (including me, before I broke my leg), he was enjoying himself so much that his positive energy was rubbing off on other people.
As my friend and I talked more about those two strangers, we began to realize that it went deeper than the actions themselves. These people were demonstrating an ideal – a way of life and a way of being that reflected what we aspire to be.
Demonstrating An Ideal and Shaping Our World
The father’s actions demonstrated a deep love, caring, respect, and recognition for his child. The smiling walker demonstrated an ability to always enjoy life, regardless of the circumstances. Although their actions seem small, it is the collection of small actions that ultimately shapes the world we live in.
In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith – the same man who founded the discipline of economics – describes how individual choices lead to important social outcomes. “Your individual actions play a role in creating civilization,” explains Russ Roberts in his book, How Adam Smith can change your life. “Through our actions, we create the norms and rules of what is attractive and what is unattractive. […] You alone make very little difference. But you make your contribution. That’s good for you. And when you join with others, you make all the difference.”
Our Actions Impact Others, Even When We Don’t Know It
The two men above probably had no idea about the impact their actions would cause. But we are social creatures, and everything that we do has the potential to create a ripple effect on others. It’s like when you do a good deed, not only do you get a boost of Serotonin (one of feel good chemicals in the brain), but the person you helped gets a boost as well, along with everyone who observes the interaction.
You never know who is watching or what kind of an impact you have. What do your actions say about the kind of person you are? How do your actions inspire others to act? As Russ Roberts describes, and both Adam Smith and I agree, we “want to live in a world where people understand and act as if their small actions have spillover effects on the actions of others.”
We all have the power to “ignite and create positive change,” adds Michelle Gielan, CBS anchor and best-selling author of Broadcasting Happiness. “You can be the person who consciously influences others for the better.”
How Do You Want To Act? Who You Aspire To Be?
I want to be like the present father and the smiling walker. I want to be the kind of person who has a positive impact on others, even if it’s in nothing more than in the way that I live my life. And because I know I need constant reminders, every morning in my journal I encourage myself to “Relax, smile, breathe, laugh, and be a positive source of life, love, and energy.”
What kind of impact do you want to have on others? On your family, your friends, your city, your country, and our world? Even though we are each only one person, and our actions don’t seem like that big of a deal, the effect they create can change the world. “It’s part of who we are,” explains Russ Roberts. “No one plans by his or her actions to improve the world. Yet we do so without having to think about it.”
Let’s be like the father and the smiler, and demonstrate our ideals in our actions. Let’s be the kind of person that makes others think about the type of people who they want to be.
- Gracias, August Ritter! [↩]