You Have More Influence Than You Think

I’ve been to many a seminar in my time as a photographer. Networking events with a speaker, conferences, meet ups, conventions, you name it. One of the things I hear often the one about the butterfly. Have you heard this one? That a hurricane in China can be traced back to a butterfly flapping it’s wings in New Mexico. That if the butterfly had not flapped it’s wings at just the right time in just the right place, the hurricane wouldn’t have happened.

I always found it so hard to believe. I can understand a ripple effect and I can understand small things contributing to a bigger thing, but that illustration never really landed with me.

As much as I’ve heard the story about the butterfly, I’ve only heard the ship illustration once. And I think it should be said more. If a ship is on course, headed for one destination, and you offset that ship by just one degree, after traveling only a mile, you’re off where you would have been by 92.2 feet. If you were to travel from San Francisco to Washington DC, you’d end up 42 miles away, in Baltimore. So you can see that over distance and time, that one degree difference evolves into a massive shift.

When I speak or write or publish an episode on IGTV, I don’t think I have a huge powerful impact. But I do believe that somewhere, someone’s course might be offset by a fraction of a degree which will develop and expand over time.

Every summer, I attend a retreat for my friends music group that he runs. Every year we gather with around twenty five high school students to set intentions for the year. But this year, my friend wanted to do something different. He wanted to illustrate the impact we have on each other and the experiences we have together. So we decided to do an exercise that I had done with Kayden a year earlier.

We recalled that Maya Angelou quote, that says, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And we went around the room and we told a story of a time someone made us feel bad.

I’ll share mine here. When I was in Junior High, I had really dark arm hair. One day, this girl in chorus told me that because I had arms that were much to hairy for a girl, it means I should have been born a boy.

It made me so insecure that I started shaving my arms and never stopped.

As we went around the room and people started sharing their own stories, I realized two things: First, these things stick. For a very long time. Some of the kids who were seventeen were telling stories that were from when they were five years old. The second thing I realized was that as much as it sucks to be on the receiving end, I never want someone else to have a memory like that of me.

And I’m sure they do… somewhere out there I am absolutely sure I said something idiotic to someone and it stuck with them. I get it, we aren’t perfect… and the girl who gave me a massive insecurity about my arms wasn’t some evil character. But doesn’t this illustrate how powerful we really are?

Then we flipped it. We went around the room and we told stories about when someone made us feel great.

As people were telling stories about positive experiences, I also realized, each story depended on effort. None of them just happened. The person in the story had to go out of their way to make a conscious effort to connect or compliment or serve or give.

If we have the power to influence someone’s life by a degree that will one day be 42 miles… or 4200 miles, we have to see that as a responsibility and we have to treat that responsibility with care.

So are you up for an exercise? Write down a time someone made you feel bad. Be as specific as you can be. What did they do? What did they say? Who were they? Were they someone significant in your life or someone passing by? Do you think they knew the impact it had? How long ago did it happen? What effect did it have on your relationships and interactions going forward?

Now do the opposite. Recall a time someone made you feel amazing. What did they do? What did they say? Was it intentional or did it just happen? Did it inspire you to do something for someone else?

For the next week, see if you can notice these things in your daily life. That guy who waived you through in heavy traffic when no one else would? Did he inspire you to also waive someone else through which then inspired someone else to do the same?

Notice how people make you feel and take note of what it is that they did to make you feel that way. It’s an interesting exercise in empathy and paying attention to how others conduct themselves can shed light on you and the part you play in the lives of others.

When people tell stories about you, what do they say? As The Doctor says, “We’re all stories in the end, just make it a good one.”

Denise Karis is an Arizona photographer who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris


Special thanks to Andrew Neel and Joseph Barrientos via Unsplash for the rad ship photos!