During parent-teacher conferences yesterday, our youngest son’s teacher gave me an analogy that was a huge help to me. Our son is somewhat, uh, let’s say…self-centric, and I’ve had difficulty explaining to him how his behaviors impact those around him. I’ve tried pointing them out in the moment, lecturing, role-playing…nothing works.
But armed with the analogy, I took another run at it.
“You see, son, it’s like this. (As I draw a picture for him…) This “X” is you here in the center. And these other “Xs” represent all the people in your life. Here’s Mom, and here I am. Here are your brother and sister, and here are some of your friends at school.
“When you say things and do things, you send off ripples like when a pebble is dropped into a pool of water. Those ripples go out from you and touch those people around you. Now, you can send out positive ripples, or you can send out negative ripples. Positive ripples usually make those around you feel good. Negative ripples typically make them feel bad.
“What kind of ripples do you want to send out? (‘Good ones.’) Sure, I knew that. But sometimes when you say mean things or do hurtful things or even when you aren’t even paying much attention at all, you send out negative ripples. I know you don’t want to make people feel bad, but what you say and do almost always affects those people around you.
“And even though you don’t always notice, there are more people around you than just the ones we’ve talked about here. If you are too focused on yourself, you don’t even see them, but they can still get your negative ripples.
“When people get negative ripples from someone, do you know what happens? (‘No.’) Many times, when someone gets negative ripples from someone, they send out their own negative ripples. Those ripples go out from them to you and often to others around them – even people who had nothing to do with what happened between the two of you. That doesn’t seem fair, does it? (‘No.’) I agree, but that’s what happens.
“Those negative ripples go out and impact other people, who then sometimes give off their own negative ripples that affect other people around them and cause them to give off even more negative ripples. Before long, the first negative ripple you sent out could end up impacting lots of people – people you’ve never met.
“But what if you worked harder at always giving off positive ripples? What would happen then? (‘The good ripples would go out and make other people want to give off good ripples. Then those good ripples would make other people want to give off more good ripples to the people around them.’) Exactly! That’s it! That’s what I wanted to help you understand. You could help a lot of people have a better day just by starting the first good ripple.”
As I shared the diagram with him, I couldn’t help but think about how it applied to my own life and how often I’m guilty of sending off negative ripples – particularly with those I love the most. My moments of frustration and selfishness and unkindness can ruin an entire evening for my family. Because of my leadership role, my ripples are sometime more like tsunamis. All the more reason for me to work harder at sending out positive ones.
Grace, Mercy, Forgiveness, Unconditional Love…Positive ripples.