Posts Tagged ‘the ripple effect’




It was a sunny summer afternoon and my partner was hanging over the fence, gabbing with the neighbours.  I was exhausted and in need of quiet so I stayed back and sat on the deck, trying to read my book.  Snippets of conversation floated my way, “And then she…”  “I mean how stupid can you be…”  “Oh, you know, people are such assholes…”   Later that night, my partner said to me, “You know, it’s okay to be part of conversations.  You don’t need to be afraid of joining in.”  Knowing I am a high introvert, she understood my stand-offish behaviour to be rooted in my basic fear of people, but this time, nothing could be further from the truth.  “Actually,” I said, “I didn’t want to be part of the conversation.  Do you realize you all did nothing but talk shit about people for the entire time?”

Have you ever noticed how much time is spent together talking about other people?  And I’m not talking about the “nice” kind of talk–updates on health, news on the job front, what the kids are up to, etc.  I’m talking about the useless and empty kind of talk, talk that is filled with judgement and criticism.  Talk that pierces the character of another who is not present.  Talk that enters your body and, if you are in touch enough, creates tension–the proverbial knot in the stomach or a sense of queasiness–words, sentences, statements that actually make us feel unwell.

Why do we do this?

They say misery loves company.  They also say a drowning person will latch on to anyone or anything within his reach and will drag it down to its death along with him.  That’s more along the lines of how I see the impact of this kind of talk.  And don’t get me wrong, I include myself in this kind of unsavoury behaviour. I have found myself immersed in these conversations where, by the end, everyone looks like they’ve been through the wars and feels like crap.  How do we help ourselves by engaging in things that cause us to feel like crap?  It seems insane, doesn’t it?

There have been many suggestions along the way for how we can curb our tendency towards “negative talk”, most recommending taking a stance that creates distance between you and the event, allowing for a witnessing of yourself within the conversation.  This is the fly-on-the-wall technique.  I’m all for creating distance and witnessing but, in this case, I don’t believe it has enough power to shift things.  I don’t think it goes deep enough.  I don’t think distance is required here as much as is diving right into the centre of the situation and feeling it in your bones.

Here’s another option:  Hear what you’re saying.  Extract the words and ask yourself, “If I was to overhear someone saying these precise things about me, how would I feel?”

When someone has hung her head out her car window and called me an idiot, how did I feel?  When someone looked me in the eye and called me a “fucking bitch”, how did I feel?  When someone called me “stupid” or “useless”, how did I feel?  I can tell you exactly how I felt.  I felt horrible.  I felt angry and offended.  Deeper still, I felt humiliated and shamed.  At the core of it all, I simply felt utterly and completely heart-broken.  Like a small child, I would find myself wondering, with wounded heart, how anyone could be so mean.  How could anyone utter such hateful things, especially if they didn’t even know me?

Now why would I want to make anyone else in the world feel this way?

I don’t.  And I don’t believe most of us do.  I’m just not sure that we understand that our words have impact, largely because most of us feel like we don’t have any impact on the world.  But we do.

I think often about the ripple effect.  When it comes to negative talk, I have never really bought that what I say about someone who perhaps lives 2000 miles away will truly negatively impact them.  Now I’m not so sure.  When I utter something crappy about someone who, for instance, is not physically present, I feel constriction in my body and, no doubt, create that same sense in the bodies of those around me who hear the words.  We all, then, move out into the world with hearts and minds that are more cramped up than before; we’re not feeling so hot.  Humans, when they don’t feel so hot, tend to connect with others in a grumpy sort of way.  So now we’re out in the world and we’re grumpy.  We get grumpy with others around us which creates grumpiness in them. And so on.  So, who is to say that, by the end of the day, this grumpiness hasn’t rippled outwards to the extent that it, indeed, has negatively touched the person to whom I was referring in the first place?  I suppose it is entirely possible that the ripple effect holds true.  If I don’t actually wish to cause harm, then why do I drop the pebble into the waters of negative speech in the first place?

Your words have power.  You have impact.

What impact will you have on humanity today?

All my love,


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