The Significance of a Life, Part One

butterflyAs we get older, many of us begin to consider whether our lives have meant anything. Maybe we’ve had a career at an anonymous desk, worked off a ladder, or drove a truck; we may have invested years in a seemingly hopeless cause or spent decades watching TV. We wonder if we’ve made any difference at all.

It helps if we understand that we are butterflies.

The Greek word for ‘soul’ is ‘psyche,’ the same word for ‘butterfly.’ So what? Well, think ‘Butterfly Effect,’ the idea that comes out of Chaos Theory (Google it) which basically says a butterfly’s wings flapping in Brazil can cause a hurricane in Florida, etc.

Most of us measure our lives according to an assumed metric: ‘any action has an equal and opposite reaction.’ So, we add up the things we’ve done and calculate the likely effect. However, the mathematics of modern Chaos Theory tell us that our calculation is wrong. The truth is, we are unable to know the monumental effect that one random act of kindness, one gesture, or one day at the desk may have on the world. Our effects are disproportionate to our actions.

Who had a more significant life:  Billy Graham, George Washington, or John Doe? We think we know, but we don’t. Some John or Jane Does did or said something that affected Billy and George in ways that made them the men they became. The point is, we ought not fret about whether we’ve made much of a difference: of course we have; We are butterflies.

Now for the bad news: this thinking can lead to what I like to call the ‘Butterfly Trap.’ More on that in my next post.



Filed under Random thoughts

3 responses to “The Significance of a Life, Part One

  1. Stephen Smith

    Well, there you have it, the parable of the mustard seed…start with one nearly microscopic bit of latent life, and when it settles in a fertile bit of soil the result will be a multiplication beyond human imagining. The larger point you may be making David is that even something as apparently simple and basic as a human thought is, on careful analysis, extraordinarily complex. (So much so that, if you really think about it, the only alternative to humility is insanity). It is my understanding that one of the central tenants of the Eastern Orthodox religion is the interrelatedness of all mankind, so perhaps they would have it that the act of bringing water to Frank had a positive effect, not just on Frank, but on all mankind, in fact all of creation. Nice thought…perhaps a little “New Age” but I tend to believe it myself.

    Another important point you make David is that it is futile, and ultimately spiritually harmful, to keep a score card of one’s good deeds. We are so inherently complex that to know even our own motives with certainly is next to impossible. We can approximate a knowledge of our states with some precision, but once again the degree of precision may be largely dependent on our state(s) of humility.

  2. Frank Liebert

    There have been days when someone did me a small kindness and it reverberated in me for a long time. Yesterday it happened…..I was talking with an Eye Specialist about my upcoming cataract removal and I mentioned I was thirsty ………Well this kind gentlemen immediately got up and went somewhere and came back with a bottled water for me……it wasn’t so much what he did as the manner with which he did it…..It was as if he was the one who was thirsty. A small kindness……….maybe ??

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