By Rev. Joseph M. Esper
In 1960 a research meteorologist named Edward Lorenz, working on a primitive computer, created a mathematical model of weather and climate conditions; he was hoping to find precise, predictable patterns that would make accurate long-range forecasting possible.
One day, to save time, he entered into the computer a rounded-off number (.506) instead of the more complete number (.506127), assuming the difference of less than 1 one-thousandth was of no importance. In fact, it had a major effect: the weather simulation came out quite differently from the initial run-through. Lorenz realized that the slightest change in conditions—in this particular case, equivalent merely to the puff of wind created by the flapping of a butterfly’s wings—could bring about a set of completely unforeseeable consequences. (In other words, the famous poem that begins “For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost,” and ends with the collapse of a kingdom, pointed out something that can be scientifically verified.) Lorenz’s discovery has come to be known as “The Butterfly Effect.”
I believe a “Butterfly Effect” can be said to exist in terms of our spiritual and emotional lives and our relationships with other people. The slightest good deed or friendly gesture on our part (or the withholding of such an act) can end up having a major impact on someone else’s life—in ways we would never have imagined. Can you recall an instance when you were in a bad mood or having a rotten day, only to have your outlook improve considerably simply because someone showed you a little kindness? This dynamic can also work in the other direction; you can be the one who makes a positive difference.
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A friendly smile, an encouraging word, a sincere expression of concern or offer to help someone in need, can all improve another person’s “emotional climate” and thereby make the world a slightly better and happier place. At the same time, choosing to live consistently in such a manner can do wonders for your own emotional, spiritual, and perhaps even physical health.
Abraham Lincoln once noted that most people are about as happy as they choose to be. It is true that our outlook on life has a great deal to do with our sense of satisfaction and joy, and it’s also true that one of the best ways to overcome a mild sense of unhappiness or depression is to stop focusing on ourselves, and instead think about what we might do to make some else happy. Costly gifts or heroic gestures aren’t needed; a simple act of thoughtfulness is often all that’s needed to start a “chain reaction” of blessing.
Butterflies are beautiful creatures, but it’s even more beautiful when we apply “The Butterfly Effect” to our own lives in a loving and generous way.
Today is a good opportunity to start putting this simple but important truth into practice.