The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect 01The Butterfly Effect is an idea that has been thought about and studied since the 1800’s by both scientists and science fiction writers.  The Butterfly Effect describes a very small effect, such as a butterfly flapping its wings in one place, which in later developments causes a hurricane half way around the world.

People who study highway traffic patterns observe similar events.  A car far ahead hits his brakes which radiates back though the column of cars behind him.  What was once a fast-moving column of cars turns into a long line of red lights.  What seems like a small thing has far-reaching consequences.

Human behaviors of any sort can magnify into a relational butterfly effect.  For example, a person gets drunk at the local bar, loses ability to make good judgments, contributes 50% to the creation of a pregnancy, and causes a child to be brought into the world in tremendous hardship.

Or an employee decides to skip work which causes a fellow worker to have to work longer and miss her/his child’s school music program, swimming tournament, or some very important business appointment.

But who wants to admit that one’s behaviors can turn from a splash into a relational tsunami?

The prevailing idea of our culture is that we each live in a relational vacuum.  That our actions and words do not travel and hence have no consequences.  That we can each live however we wish to live.

Yet we know instinctively that such is not the case.  We’re not in a vacuum.  A butterfly can, indeed, flap its wings and cause changes in the atmosphere around it.

Environmentalism is often sold based on the fact that individuals do have accountability and influence.  We are told that if an individual quits using plastic water bottles, rides her bike to work, and takes reusable bags to the grocery store, such deeds have significance and influence.

Even so, the words we use and the actions we take have consequences good and bad.  Just like a person tapping his brakes on the highway affects people many miles behind.

Therefore, a person wanting to live a positive life will always be asking what her actions mean for people in successive rings of influence.  Will they be blessed or harmed in some way?

Even though the Butterfly Effect is a scientific question, it also has implications for human behaviors.