Butterfly Effect: The phenomenon whereby a minute localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere.
At times I wonder how many of my everyday decisions seem to be made with very little care. I imagine the myriad of choices I am faced with on a daily basis and think to myself that they will never amount to much in the grand scheme of things and so they pass without second thought. I save my sleepless nights and relentless worrying for the kind of decisions I believe are big enough to be worth suffering over- getting married, having kids or changing jobs.
But what if I believed that not just how my life unfolded, but perhaps the fate of the world rested on the cumulative effect of our smaller day to day decisions. Think about this for a minute. There have been many times when a seemingly inconsequential choice I made opened up my life to unexpected opportunities and taken me down roads I would have never even imagined for myself. The theory goes that a butterfly flapping its wings in Africa today has the power to cause a hurricane later down the road in another part of the world. If the butterfly had not flapped its wings in just the right place at just the right time, the hurricane would never have happened. That is the mystery and magic of the Butterfly Effect.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus. Although she was a civil-rights activist before her arrest, in her autobiography she writes that her choice to remain seated that day was not premeditated. After working a long day at a Montgomery department store, sitting in a row of seats designated for ‘colored’ passengers, Rosa decided she would not give up her seat to the standing white passengers on that crowded bus that day. When the driver asked her why she did not stand up, she replied that she did not think she should have to. She was arrested, taken to police headquarters and released on bail later that night. I think it is important to remember that Rosa had previous run-ins with this particular bus driver and knew how dangerous the climate in the South could be for a back woman. When Rosa made that fateful decision I doubt she could have ever imagined how her refusal to give up her seat would start a chain of events that would not only change her life, but would change a nation.
I am not arguing that what she faced was a small or insignificant decision. But as a black woman living in the South, racial inequality was woven into the very fabric of the world she lived and the gross injustices she would face were an everyday occurrence. Why would this day be any different from her perspective? She could not have possibly predicted how her decision to remain seated would spark a movement that would reverberate around the world.
So why does this matter and how is the Butterfly Effect important to us all? I think about the “Me Too” movement and the story of Harvey Weinstein as an example. Each time a powerful man like Quentin Tarantino or Matt Damon, both who admittedly knew of Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behavior chose to look the other way, they all but ensured there would be another victim. Their cowardly decision to convince themselves that this was not their problem and that staying uninvolved held no great consequence, further perpetuated a culture that allowed Harry Weinstein to continue down his destructive path. The ripple effect from our refusal to confront blatant abuse of power has normalized the unacceptable and abhorrent and emboldened all the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world to continue to abuse and exploit the most vulnerable.
But imagine, if at every turn, when someone who was in a position of power became aware of the abuse and chose to speak out instead of turning a blind eye. If they bravely confronted this behavior and embraced it as our collective problem whose solution required both boldness and courage, how different our world would be. You see my point? Each one of us, every day has the opportunity to be more like Rosa Parks and treat our decisions, however insignificant they may appear, as though they had the power to create immense change.
In our world we are witnessing a growing trend of intolerance, exclusion, and hate that is rapidly becoming normalized. This is so very dangerous. Sadly, I find myself guilty at times of barely taking notice when I hear on the news of another hate crime or school shooting.
We tolerate children being separated at the border from their family or violence being perpetrated toward others based solely upon their faith. We vote for a president who admittedly “grabs them by the *&#@$%* and repeatedly uses his position of power to bully and humiliate those who dare disagree with him. Even today, so many years after the courageous decision of Rosa Parks and the fight for civil rights, we are still bombarded with daily video feed of more senseless and brutal police beatings of black people. Where the color of your skin and not the crime define the structure of the sentence and the punishment meted out.
So when I find myself feeling powerless in the face of the suffering I see in the world, I hold on to the hope of the Butterfly Effect. The idea that somehow, each one of the seemingly small choices I make each day to battle injustice, defy hatred and perpetuate more goodness and kindness in the world will tap into some universal benevolence, find traction and culminate in a larger than life transformative shift that has the power to not only save me, but help mend a broken world. So tomorrow, if I find myself faced with the opportunity to refuse to give up my seat on the bus- well, I am going to try and be more like Rosa Parks and remember that one small change can change everything.