Jan 13, 2010

Every act counts: even a moment can change the course of the world

What would you do if you could have closure on a question that's woven into the fabric of your life and being?

(Yes, it's time for another thoughtful blog post. Settle down, students. Open your textbooks to page Think With Me for a Sec ... ;))

Tracey/Froggie at Froggie Knits Like Crazy asked a version of that question on her blog a few days ago.

"What questions do you carry with you that you need answers to in order to move on?" That's the question I got out of her blog post, although I'm not sure it's the one she meant to ask.

My answer is a flood of words — more than seemed to fit in the comment field. This is one of those questions that reflects more on the answerer than on the asker. I wrote in my comment to her:
I'm the kind of person who likes to ask questions some people are uncomfortable asking — specifically because I seek the kind of closure and information you're talking (writing ;)) about here. I had a friend say once that I was the only person she knew who could say anything to anyone at any time. It's not completely true — one thing I really dislike doing is asking a question I know won't be answered properly.
"Properly" is the same thing as "thoughtfully and honestly," to me — and if I ask you a "closure question," being honest with me is less important than being honest with yourself.

Because if I'm asking you a closure question, it almost always means this at its heart: I want to see if you're open to a fundamental question — "Have you thought about your actions enough to be comfortable with their possible consequences?"

Although it may not look like one, that's a positive question. It's about making good choices. It's about learning not to regret. It's about making every moment count, and believing in everything you do — big or small. It's about intentionally being yourself, because you know who you are and how to be that person.

I asked this question uncounted times as a student: Does Mr. X realize that if he fails Student Z today, Student Z's parents will punish him rather than trying to help him succeed, both of which will encourage Student Z to believe he isn't smart enough to study astrophysics, even though that's what he really wants to do?

The answer was always Probably not. None of us can see the future with complete clarity. But we see even less if we don't try.

And the truth is that every moment has the potential to make a difference. If a teacher takes today to sit with a student and explain why he got a failing grade — even though the student "has a bad attitude" and the teacher is tired and has 100 things to do — that's a little more thought and a little more truth in the world. That's a little more weight on the side of the scale that gives a person a head start toward being what they truly want to be. That's a little more potential for that student — that person — to realize, a little more light in the darkness.

The truth is that the teacher is realizing his own potential, too. In being honest and thoughtful on someone else's behalf, he's getting good practice spending every moment positively.

A lot of people take for granted that small moments don't mean much. They do. The small moments add up to a lifetime, and one moment can change the course of a life. Sometimes, we can see results right away — but more often, the little things we do influence the world invisibly ... until we see, years later, how "little" things helped guide us on the path to the Big Thing: who we are today.

What small moments do you carry with you still? What still hurts, and what still heals? What still makes you proud? What still makes you wish you had chosen differently?

The questions that stay with me, the ones that demand answering long after the opportunity to ask is gone, are almost always inspired by small moments. I want to ask, "Why did you think it was okay to do what you did?" or "Why didn't you think it would be okay?" And then, more importantly, I want to ask, "Do you think differently now? Can you think of something you can do today to make things more like you want them to be? Can you think of something small to do, that matters?"

All I ask is one little thing. One today, another tomorrow. Another the day after. One tiny thing each day. Something easy.

Because you never know when a tiny thing could start an avalanche.
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