Sunday, June 15, 2008

JWN: The Ripple Effect

The Ripple Effect

By: Joseph W. Norman

"Few have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and, crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." - Robert F. Kennedy

Everyday our words and our actions send out waves through the world. With my recent curiosity of thought power and the wonders of the mind, I’ve come to believe that our thoughts do this incredible act as well. Everything we do sends impulses away from us; through people, places, things, and even ideas. What does this all mean though? What impact are the conversations, thoughts, and actions we carry through everyday having on the world around us?

I have conviction in the fact that what we do has more of an influence on the universe than we could ever imagine. Strangely enough, in this creative act of writing, I’m trying to decipher the concept which I just declared unimaginable. A paradox indeed! Nonetheless, it is not always about finding the perfect solution, but rather defining and toiling with the problem which creates the most value. My act here is putting the issue on the table for all of us to ponder.

First, a situation described to me recently by my friend Tricia. While in Switzerland, she had a conversation with a man in Italy who was coming back from a job interview. He was describing his situation as follows; the company was offering to keep him in Milan, Italy or send him to do similar work in Spain. In their conversation, the man changed his mind from staying in Italy to taking the chance and moving to Spain. The course of that man’s life was altered with that dialogue. All of this came about from an interaction with a complete stranger!

My executive coach, Jenn Sertl, consistently tells me, “When someone gives you their ear, they lend you their world.” That’s a powerful thing to think about. It always puts life into perspective for me when I hear it. What it helps me remember is the validity of one of my personal mantras; “Our words and our actions will always do one of two things, build people up or tear them down.”

To this day I recall things that people have said to me which have influenced my life. Some of them are more negative then others but they propelled me to great triumphs. Once, an individual who need not be named said to me, “You can’t get into SUNY Geneseo. Don’t even bother applying.” About a month ago after I walked across that stage as a graduate from the College Honors Program at Geneseo with a B.A. in English, I remembered those words and I smiled because all along I knew the truth.

What matters though is not my triumph, but rather the idea that those two sentences stuck with me for five years. Though I did not dwell on them and make them the reason for my drive to complete my undergraduate experience at Geneseo, they did make their mark on my life. What I took from that experience was that most often in life it is the negative quips that people use against each other which live the longest in our psyche. They strike so quick, but the wound they leave can take years to close.

Reflecting on that fact over the years has really made me think about the power of our words. It has even moved me to my personal philosophy; “I aim to make a consistent positive influence on the people and communities I associate with on a daily basis.” But, why do I think this way? It is because I know that my words and my actions, like my friend Tricia’s, could change the course of somebody’s life. And, that change could end up meaning the world to someone who will now cross their path.

When you start to weigh out the depth of this concept, you begin to think a little more before you speak. Your planned actions are suddenly more important. That witty insult you were going to make in jest at a colleague loses its luster. Your heartfelt discussion with an old friend over lunch reverberates a little deeper. And, the casual conversation you strike up with the woman in front of you in the security line at the airport takes on a little more meaning. Your world is changed the second you begin to consciously consider the ripple effect.

“There is a ripple effect in all that we do. What you do touches me. What I do touches you.” - Author Unknown

Thank you for lending me your world. My sincere hope is that you believe you are a better person for it.


Joseph W. Norman, resides in Macedon, NY, and is Chief Enthusiasm Officer and Editor of The VIP Profiles. He offers lectures and keynote talks on leadership, personal, and professional development and is always up for a business lunch.

Joseph can be reached at or 607.743.8569.

To receive the weekly eZine, The VIP Profiles, email or visit