The social butterfly effect

‘Be the change that you want to see in the world’ – Gandhi


Like it or not, we’re all made of stardust. Whether the universe is powered by a superior being or is simply an amazing natural phenomenon, we are definitely the product of some rather kick-ass nuclear fusion – our galaxy, solar system & planet are the remnants of once exploded stars.

For me this is a both humbling and awe-inspiring thought, and also suggests we are perennially entangled with each other and the universe at large. The advent of modern DNA technology enables us to know that we share 98% of our data with the average chimpanzee and 35% with a daffodil – which along with the stardust helps explain why having a consistent point of view is sometimes a challenge, and why all other actual ‘people’ are basically family!

As someone whose sensitive side is often well hidden but is acutely aware of both my own feelings, and that of those around me, the notion of an interconnected world and how we interact with one another has remained front and centre in how I look at things. This is especially prescient when considering the impact that our words and actions have on others.

I’ve found, particularly within a workplace environment, that some people become oblivious to the direct and indirect impact of their behaviour. I’ve had mixed fortunes with my line managers – from a big-hearted first boss in London who pushed the work hard/play hard concept to breaking point (normally a Wednesday-night finish at 4am with an 8am start looming large!) to a more recent manager, the experience of working for whom I can only compare to being locked in a room with no windows and a rather erratic wasp for company.

Three hours sleep and a brutal office hangover are not easy, but compared to the continuous psychological torture of the wasp it was a cakewalk.  The impact this had on me, and some of my junior colleagues who also suffered this psychological torment, hammered home the massive importance of taking care of the people we interact with and of finding better ways to train, advise or even ‘gently’ admonish those people we’re responsible for.

A ‘slightly’ less personal example has been to follow Jürgen Klopp’s tenure as manager of Liverpool football club. Despite the tribal nature of British football, even opposing fans are impressed by the way that he’s forged a genuine bond between himself, the players, fans and city as a whole.

In Klopp’s first press conference he spoke about the existing quality of the players available to him (they were currently 10th in the Premier League but ultimately reached two major cup finals) as oppose to the need to sign a host of superstars, thus breathing confidence and self-belief into the team. Over the past three and a half years he has rarely criticised any individual player, normally taking direct responsibility for poor performances himself – which as a self-assured 50-plus-year-old is the right thing to do, but also refreshing.

Equally, when offered the chance to lift the European Cup with the club captain this June he declined, wanting the players to take the limelight. How many times have you seen your manager or colleague shirk responsibility for something that went wrong, or take the plaudits for something that you did, maybe you even do this yourself?

Returning to the bigger picture, and from a more scientific point of view, theoretical physicists over the past hundred years or so have identified the composition of our cosmic spider web in the form of quantum wave fields which interlink all known matter.

While I would like to explain this in more detail I’d highly recommend The Universe in Your Hand (Christophe Galfard) or The Big Picture (Sean Carroll). Trying to detail in 100 words how sub atomic particles operate – taking every available route through space/time, both the impossible/possible and forwards/backwards in time, behaving differently if they are observed, and that you are composed of these particles – is better explained by the experts (you may also want book a counsellor in advance!). But the long and short of it is that as well as being made from stardust you are actually, physically, connected to everyone and everything on the planet and in the wider universe. 

Eastern philosophy has also long suggested an interwoven universe in which our actions create a karmic value that’s realised in our future current lives as well as in future incarnations – your actions rippling out into the ether and ultimately dictating your future fortune in this life and the next.  While I prefer to take metaphorical rather than literal learnings from spiritual texts, the idea of a more practical karma within this life is certainly something one can observe.

As I’ve taken a break from corporate life and look to start my own business, the number of friends and former colleagues who have been willing to help or support me has been genuinely heartwarming. I would like to think this is a reflection of my own previous behaviour, which while rarely perfect has never been vindictive, and also of the inherent kindness most people have within them. (Of course, it could just be that my business idea looks amazing and I have a mercenary set of friends whose eyes are flashing neon dollar signs as we speak!) 

From what I’ve experienced directly, read and observed (and perhaps more importantly, from the point of view of many of mankind’s greatest minds) we are not separate from the universe – we ‘are the universe’, inextricably linked to everyone and everything by our actions and via a beautiful web of invisible fields whose fluctuations allow life and light to resonate through space and time. So every time you flap your wings, imagine the kind of social butterfly you’d like to be – the waves from those wings will have a much greater impact than you could ever imagine. 

Recommended reading / watching

Christophe Galfard – The Universe in Your Hand: a beautifully written and easy-to-read account of everything from our solar system to particle physics, black holes and string theory.

Sean Carroll – The Big Picture: a slightly more in-depth exploration of life, the universe & everything (his TED Talks and YouTube videos offer a more approachable alternative).

Herman Hesse – Siddartha; one of the most humane books I’ve read, examining our search for meaning and the interconnected nature of the world.

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