Casting Ripples

Photo credit: jeremyfe

You never know what ripples your actions are going to cast.

Now do me a favor: read that first sentence again, but slow down and think about it.

People look at statements (okay, platitudes) like that and say, “Yep, makes sense,” and that’s the extent of their consideration. I think that idea is more important than we give it credit for and deserves more than a cursory glance. A platitude became a platitude because at one point it was important enough to say it, after all.

So what’s all of this about ripples, then, anyway? I think considering the ranging consequences of one’s actions is a lost habit, and that it shouldn’t necessarily be.

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.
-Mother Teresa

Instant Culture

We live in a fast-paced world. If you’re American, you know that this is true of many parts of the country and is a point of pride for us. I have no problem with living at such a pace and don’t see it as a bad thing, but I think it exposes some flaws in our decision making process of which we can try to be conscious. Since we operate at an “instant level” – instant communication, instant food, instant responses – I think that we sometimes forget that this isn’t always a good thing. That sometimes careful consideration is far more important than the immediacy of our action.


Instant is not always good.

I catch myself trying to respond to text messages from distraught friends quickly so that they don’t feel ignored, and then realizing that a swift response is not what’s most important; a carefully considered response is. Can you give a conversation its due if you’re concerned with continuing it rather than enhancing it? Sometimes you can do both, but there are times that they’re mutually exclusive and you have to decide what’s more important.

Immediate action is not inherently valuable. You create value in interactions by ensuring that they’re actually valuable, not simply prompt. We can create value by putting forth our best ideas, best solutions, or honest answers within a conversation, but not solely by reacting.

Consequences of Immediacy

So how does this relate to casting ripples? Instant culture often allows immediacy to overshadow careful consideration. Sometimes, this prevents us from wondering what ripples our words or actions will cast, and what other ripples those will change when they bump into one another.

When we make snap decisions or act swiftly, there’s no way to look forward for the consequences our actions can have. Not only that, but any consideration of the domino effect that your actions may prompt from others is cast aside. While not every action or decision is a matter of great importance, I think the pressure to act or decide quickly for nominal issues bleeds into the decision-making process for far more important issues.

Instant may not mean "quality".

Instant may not mean “quality”.

I see this more and more with younger siblings and friends, with kids I taught, and with kids we were recruiting even when I was still in college — they share tweets, publish videos, or make choices without stopping to think of what will come next, and it can hurt them in the long run. This kind of instant culture can stop a high school athlete from getting a scholarship or stop a kid from getting a job.

So I wish I could say to them: before you dispense advice, try to make a point, or make a decision bigger than what’s for dinner, maybe instead take a moment of pause and wonder what effects your actions will have. What consequences will your course generate, and how will it affect others? I know it’s an easy concept, but again, it seems like we forget it just as easily.

Let’s not fall prey to instant culture and the pressure to be swift and decisive. Let’s instead place proper importance and measure on our actions and live intentionally. When we consider the ranging effects of our actions, we can then understand how we can use them to affect the change we want to see.

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.
-Mother Teresa

Instead of remaining ignorant of the ripples we cast (to our detriment), we can instead acknowledge their existence, consider what we want them to look like, and act accordingly.