Note: This article will appear in the September-October issue of Neighbors of Batavia magazine.
How are you doing? Before you answer, think carefully…there might be more at stake than you think.
I might be wrong, but there is a good chance your immediate response would have been to a question other than the one I intended. If you are like most people, you were tempted to say something like “Fine, thanks,” “Couldn’t be better,” “Not so great,” or perhaps “Life has been a struggle, but I’ll make it through.” Those are answers to the inquiry “How are you?” What I asked is “How are you doing?”…as in “In what manner are you completing the task in front of you at this moment?” Recently, I have begun to wonder if the manner in which I approach the activities of my life is just as important, or perhaps far more important, than the activities themselves. I have been reflecting on my “to be” list as actively as my “to do” list.
Having watched some of the Games of the XXX Olympiad, athletes know attitude is critical when translating mental desire into physical results. On a golf course, if I pull a driver from my bag and approach the ball with confidence, I am far more likely to hit a solid drive than if I approach with the belief that hitting a microscopic white orb with a small mallet at the far end of a very long graphite shaft is simply impossible. (You now know why I haven’t played golf in twenty years!) I was on my bicycle recently when I came upon a very narrow path, perhaps fifty feet in length, bounded on both sides by a high railing. While I never have trouble keeping my bike steady in the open, once bounded by the railing, fear welled up and made the first 30 feet a difficult and treacherous escapade. Once I neared the end of the challenge, my confidence returned and the final 15 feet were easy to negotiate.
My attitude toward day-to-day activities has an impact far beyond how my brain’s neuronal impulses might ease or challenge the movements of my muscles. If I am filled with animosity as I wend my way through my daily toils, I will create different outcomes than if I am joyful and filled with gratitude. Interactions with others, especially my family, are more fruitful if I begin by remembering how much I love them, rather than entering a conversation angry over a perceived lack of respect or difference of opinion. When I begin my interactions by reminding myself to focus on their wholeness rather than mine, life is far more generative. There is a reason why we say “if you’re angry, count to ten before you speak.”
Edward Lorenz was a meteorologist, who, in 1969, coined the term Butterfly Effect, when he discovered that infinitesimally small changes in initial conditions can radically change the course of weather over time and distance. It is said that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world, by changing initial weather conditions ever so slightly, can cause a tornado, hurricane or tsunami weeks or months later halfway around the globe.
The Butterfly Effect applies to far more than insects and inclement weather. Any time we change initial conditions, the course of human history is altered. And while it is difficult to imagine that some distant, future international conflict may erupt because of the attitude with which I approach a golf ball, it is not difficult to see how a careless, angry comment from a parent to a child can change the course of their lives. I know…I hear from callers on the suicide hotline how tsunamis of painful emotion have erupted because of thoughtless or angry comments from important role models many years earlier.
So, I’ll ask again. How are you doing? How are you approaching what you are doing in this moment, or in the very next? If you are anxious, angry, greedy or frustrated could you stop for just a moment, take a deep breath and instead approach the next moment with more generosity, care, love and concern?
It just might be that the future of humanity hangs in the balance.