The ripple effect of our actions

I tried to explain shockwaves to my children the other day. 

The kind that radiate out from our under-processed decisions.

They stared back at me blankly.

I was explaining this because my daughter had just complained about my eldest son performing a wrist-twisting burn on her arm. 

But then, less than two minutes later, my younger son came to me in pain… saying that the same daughter had perfected the same violent act on him.


You’d think that being hurt ourselves would help us develop empathy for others- that the experience of pain would make us careful to keep others from having to go through the same hurt.

Yet, the actions of my ‘innocent’ children lead me to believe that our natural response is to do the opposite. Rather than process negative experiences and use them as a prompt to do something different, 

we pass on what we receive.


If we’re hit from behind, we smash forward into the next person that happens to be in the way.

What’s really fascinating is to consider how far these shockwaves can travel. Like an earthquake sending a tsunami to distant shores, I’ve seen how far deep hurts ripple across social circles and generations.

I’m sure it doesn’t have to be this way… but that’s easy to say… much more challenging to  do something about.

That’s because, to pass on a hurt, is to lessen its force somewhat- rolling with the punch into someone else. 

Processing pain is weighty and unpleasant. Easier not to think about it. 

Yet not thinking through hurt doesn’t mean it doesn’t become part of us. And as part of us, it comes out of us.

For hurt to stop with us means taking on the full impact. Rolling waves crashing abruptly into the coastline. 

The greater the hurt, the greater the impact force. 

There are shockwaves still travelling on throughout the history of humanity. No one* strong enough to absorb the accumulating impact.

The flip side of all this is that compassionate acts send ripples too. 

When you act with kindness towards another individual, it’s not just one person you’re helping. 

That person is now more likely to be in a better mood, more likely to smile at the person coming the other way, more likely to speak in a friendly tone, more likely to do something spontaneously generous. 

And so it ripples on, to the next person and the next.

We all want to be like that.

But to be better kindness givers, we also need to learn how to be pain absorbers.  

Which is costly. It means taking time to process the hurts. 

But it’s worth it.

Because we’re far more interconnected than we realise. Our small acts of kindness often ripple so far that they come full circle. 

It’s that way in my family for sure! I’m beginning to realise that if I want to live in a kinder place, my example is where it starts.

- Tom Anderson

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