Actions cascade outward like ripples from a stone tossed into still water. And like the proverbial rock, once it is loosed an action is out of our hands and the resultant ripples out of our control.
The value of an action lies completely within itself. Its ripples emanate outward into the world; cascading into the waves and currents of others, disappearing into crests and troughs that are always moving, shifting, and transforming. It can be difficult to spot the effect of a single drop into such a churn, yet simultaneously it never truly disappears; still there in the sea of being, though less visible in its compounding intermingling.
And the waters are never still. The effects of an action intertwine with factors beyond ourselves – perspectives, conditioning, and subjectivity…from a single perspective, it is impossible to know wholly the resultant impacts of something we do.
This is not an excuse to absolve ourselves of liability when our ripple causes a splash. If someone feels disrespected even though we didn’t mean it for example, we still have a responsibility for our action in the situation.
When we recognize the inevitable cause-and-effect relationship of an action, we can begin to see the myriad of things it touches outside of us. Nothing is done in a vacuum and acknowledging our interconnectivity is important in dealing with unexpected results like conflict. Sure, you might not have meant to cause such a reaction in someone else, but your ripple did play a part in it. And it helps to answer the question of now what!? – where understanding of one’s role in the wider scope of things allows for more creativity in remedying them.
Perhaps the next time we perform a similar rock toss, we can do so with a little more mindfulness of the potential waves it may cause.
All this is to say that we can’t know the full effect of our actions, but we can know that there is an effect in each and every one.
Recognizing this reality of interbeing, it becomes evident that little actions can have outsized impacts.
Forgiving your partner after a turbulent conflict establishes a positive archetype to the watchful eyes of a child, a similarly struggling friend, or a stranger’s happenstance gaze. The unexpected gift of someone paying for your coffee sows seeds of generosity that you might pay forward to someone else. A boss who takes time to listen to you as a human inspires likewise efforts to see their humanity when later at odds in tough work situations.
And the ripples don’t stop there as others toss their stones into the sea of collective being as well. The child grows up and chooses forgiveness at a tough crossroads. The generosity train continues. Colleagues form the foundation of a healthy company culture.
On and on, things have a certain momentum to them.
But these outsized effects also apply to less-than-nice actions. Abuse, disrespect, trauma…the ripples cascade outwards for generations and it can take an inordinate amount of effort to shift the hidden momentum behind them. These massive events never come out of nowhere, though it may be difficult to clearly see the currents beneath the surface that they arise from.
A lot of the mediation concepts we elucidate on this blog might be seen as "focusing on the negative." But rest assured that we only shine a light on the negative in order to help us see it more clearly. The hope is that from there we can then transform it into a more positive direction.
Emphasis is put on dancing with the waters in tough situations: watching the ripples happen in slow motion, softening and receiving their momentum carefully, and doing our best to redirect it somewhere better than a tidal wave.
We focus on conflict so that we can find resolution. We focus on disrespect so that we can cultivate respect. It’s not about one or the other, but the dual existence of both.
There is simultaneously hope and responsibility in the cascading potential of each action, which extends far beyond our vision. By this same measure, we accept unanticipated results – remembering that our reaction to what comes our way is as important as that which we’re reacting to, the important not-knowing nature of beginner’s mind, and that each action is a practice rather than perfection.
All of us could stand to be better with our rock tossing and water dancing.
We looking forward to navigating these waters with you.