Brief encounters can make a big difference. An accident, a chance meeting, a misfortune. Then life follows a new course. When Paul McCartney and John Lennon first met, John Lennon could barely play guitar. It was Paul who showed him how to tune up properly. John and his band mates almost let Paul slip through their fingers, thinking he was too good, and would make them look bad. John Lennon and Paul McCartney gave each other a chance. And so, the Beatles were formed.
The wonderful psychologist, and author of "Flow", Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about an event that shaped the life of a great human rights lawyer. A poor immigrant family had scraped together enough money to buy their son a bike for his birthday. The bike was the boy's pride and joy. As he was riding it, he was knocked over by the driver of a fancy car. The driver explained that he was a doctor and would treat the boy himself, in the hospital. He assured them that it was unnecessary to involve the police. He would provide medical care himself, as well as replace the precious bike.
The family, who spoke little English, and who had placed their trust in authority figures, went along with this 'rich doctor', believing all that he said. After taking them to the hospital, the so-called doctor left them and vanished. The family had to take out a loan to pay the medical bill, as well as eventually replace the bike. The father became ever more fearful and mistrustful of strangers after this event. The son however, became determined to work hard. He eventually became a lawyer. He dedicated himself to protecting the rights of the underprivileged. This encounter, which crushed his father, became the fuel that propelled the son to fight for justice.
A single event can have the power to alter the course of our life.
I love the following story about how tiny actions can have a huge impact:
While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean. As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water. He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?” The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.” Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!” The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it into the back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It made a difference for that one.”
Small actions can have a big impact. But we are not so helpless as starfish. We must take action. If we want to be 'the stars' of our own life, then it is up to us to write the stories we want. We can be the victims of chance and misfortune, and allow events to crush us. Or, we can resolve to fight back. We set a course. We find a purpose. The purpose we find gives our life deep meaning. But it is up to us. What we do matters. Our small actions can have a big impact.