Clarissa Johal: The Ripple Effect

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Ripple Effect

A friend of mine is a social worker. She was recently worrying that what she did for a living was related to her ego rather than a genuine desire to help people. Yes, before you shake your head, I too, say, "If it's ego,then so be it. You are doing so much more than 99% of the population of the world!"
It takes a very special person to dedicate their lives to helping others. And really, the rest of us could do a little of the same. Sharing the milk of human kindness with this ailing world would make the drink go so much further. My response to her thoughts was that the world operates on a ripple effect. There are "good" ripples, and there are "bad" ones. Any good ripple is valuable, regardless where within yourself it comes from.
Here's what I tell my kids, and bear with me, because it is extreme to illustrate a point.
Let's say you are on the playground and there is another child there that looks a little dirty, acts a little unacceptable, and generally isn't someone you would walk up to and play with. And, let's say, that child decides, through some twist of fate, to come over and ask you to play. What do you do?
Of course, my girls, being the lovely children they are, decide that they would both run away screaming.
So, let's go with that.
You run away screaming. The child, unfortunately, assumes that he is unworthy of playing with and his self-esteem sinks even lower than it started at that morning. Never mind that his mother's washing machine broke earlier that week, which explains the dirty clothes. And never mind that the stress at the child's home has been high that week because the father has lost his job due to the economy and can't provide for his family. The child has come to the playground that morning to escape the fact that his parents are, at that very moment, arguing at home and contemplating a divorce.
This would be, the pre-ripple effect.
So, back to my kids running away screaming.
The child has come to the unfortunate conclusion that he is unworthy of playing with. Tiring of playing alone, he decides to go back home. Unfortunately again, he walks in on the argument his parents are having and it has turned ugly. The parents, embarrassed by their behavior, turn their stress on their child and compound the child's feelings of unworthiness.
And it goes downhill from there.
The "bad" ripple effect. Everybody loses.
Here's another scenario.
My lovely children, playing at the playground, see another child there that looks a little dirty, acts a little unacceptable, and generally isn't someone they would play with. And, through some twist of fate, they decide to go over and ask him to play.
If only because there happens to be no other children at the playground that day and my children don't wish to play with just each other.
Or perhaps, because it is what my children should do.
In a perfect world.
The child is able to escape, if only for an hour, from the stress at home. Which has been caused by the father losing his job and inability to provide for his family. Which has been compounded by the washing machine breaking and the mother's inability to clean her family's clothes.
The child is able to have fun and be a child. If only for an hour. And at little cost to my children.
The child's self-esteem inches up a fraction. He goes home and is able to completely miss the argument his parents have had, and were eventually able to talk out.
Things go up from there.
The "good" ripple effect. This may be an extreme example.
Or not.
Every little thing you do affects something. Every ant you step on, every disapproving look you give to your kids, every telephone call or email you don't return, every "white lie" you tell, every smile you don't give, every stray you don't take in, every favor you opt out of, every child you ignore, and every "hand up" you choose not to offer.
I hope my children will realize that any little "good" thing they choose to do, is valuable.
And I hope my social worker friend does too.

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