We often like to think that our lives are our own -- each of us is an island unto ourselves. We are independent actors on our own center stage. What I do is my business and my business alone.
But life is an interconnected web. Every action begets other actions. Every action starts a ripple and, though we often are not cognizant of how a ripple we started impacts other people or circumstances, that ripple spreads out far and wide. Many times the ripples bear luscious fruit, but at other times, the fruit turns out to be bitter.
On Thursday, a 6 year old boy fell into the icy grip of South Dakota's Big Sioux River. I'm sure he didn't do it on purpose, but his action led to the deaths of two people. The first was his 16 year old sister. She jumped in to try to save her little brother, only to succumb to the icy water herself. A passerby noticed the girl struggling in the water and jumped in to try to save her. He ended up dying too.
And the 6 year old? He managed to save himself. But think of the guilt he must live with: Two people died because HE fell into the river.
As he grows older, he must come to grips with the effects of that one ripple in his life. Hopefully, he will learn that he did not cause those two deaths, but the action of falling into the river set the stage.
Most of the ripples that emanate from our lives don't have life and death consequences, but some do. A lot of our consumer choices are made on the backs of faceless workers in faraway places who live lives marked by oppression and poverty. When we don't think too much about war, our apathy -- an action in itself -- sentences other people to misery and death. And when we disregard the environmental consequences of our actions, we jeopardize the lives of other species as well as our own.
There really are no throwaway actions in this life for EVERY act produces a ripple.
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.