lol you ever feel like your presence is so easily replaceable in everyone’s lives. like, my general existence don’t really matter in the long run and I’m just filler.
Okay, but this is fundamentally not true, and I’m going to explain why.
So as human beings we are each collectively made up of all the things we have ever experienced, even those things that we have consciously forgotten, like everything before the age of three/four/five/whatever. I think everyone knows how damaging a single throw-away line from someone can be, how a handful of words can haunt you for years and years and completely alter your behavior/mode of thought. The same is true of positive things, although for some weird reason we seem to be more strongly affected by the negative. Thought for another post.
Anyway, so it’s like this;
The tiniest things each of us do has a ripple effect. Things we don’t even notice, ripples we’ll never see, but are still there. Someone who overhears a snippet of your conversation with your friends is amused or horrified or inspired to consider an entirely new opinion or idea. A stranger sees your bright red shirt and smiles because that color has some meaning for them; that moment of happiness can alter an entire day. Someone sees you reading a book they like and gets that glittery feeling of knowing someone else in the world likes the same book (I get this one all the time). Look, you know this, these tiny happy moments shift the axis of your entire day sometimes, it’s not super rational but there you go, if I see someone reading my favourite book on the bus I’m going to be smiling and have an easier time dealing with school that day.
Or maybe you were the quiet kid at the back of the classroom, and the person who always felt guilty for never going to talk to you ends up making more of an effort at uni and changing somebody else’s life. Maybe an opinion you expressed in class triggered a revelation in someone else’s head, set them down the path of becoming someone entirely different. One day someone notices that you never seem to eat lunch and spots a friend’s eating disorder because now they’re thinking about the topic.
But let’s go back to the ripple effects, let’s think about a trail of dominoes. You smile at the person who makes you your coffee, and it’s this moment of relief, of shared humanity. You don’t even remember three seconds later but that person has an easier time dealing with rude customers the rest of the day. That person is then more patient with someone who’s having a genuinely horrible day, and that person goes away able to breathe a little better, and so on and on and on
Just from a three second smile
You hold the door open for a stranger, and they don’t say thank you but they catch their train/bus/taxi and if they hadn’t, at best they’d have snapped at more people that day and at worst they could have been late or missed something important.
The sight of you in a crowd makes someone think of their son or daughter, and they call them, maybe they haven’t talked in forever but today they call.
The book you buy, the money you spend, affects the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands of people.
That throw-away comment you said to your friend, that thing you don’t even remember, is still in their head all these years later, the compliment or the insult, the show you made them watch, the doodle on their notebook, it’s all in there. Everyone you talk to is someone different because of it – minutely different, almost unnoticeably different, but it’s there, and you know what, you have no idea the effect wearing your hair in a ponytail today had on the world, you can go the whole day without talking to someone and years later someone will remember your silence, will watch for it again, will catch it in someone else. Your brothers and sisters will treat their children differently because they grew up with you, and those children will become people they wouldn’t have been if you’d never existed, and they will make their own ripples, down and down and down forever. Are you kidding, we don’t even have to be born to alter someone’s life, think of the enormous ramifications a miscarriage can have on someone, on a couple, on their friends and family, and tell me that somehow you breathing and dreaming and living, even if you live the most boring closeted minimalist life humanly possible, can have less of an effect on the world than that of someone who really wasn’t born.
Just because you don’t notice the effect you have on the world – even if the world doesn’t notice the effect you have on it – does not mean that there is no effect. You are not filler. We’re not all going to find the cure to cancer but the universe would be an impossibly different place without even a single one of us.
You don’t know how much I needed to read this today. The past week (month, year) has been filled with an increasing sense of invisibility as IRL friends have moved on and no new people have materialized to fill the gaps they’ve left. I’m horribly isolated right now, and given that I’m not the kind of person that actively goes looking for new friends or opportunities to meet people, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But I do try to engage with the people I bump into over the course of the day as pleasantly and positively as possible… so maybe that matters too.
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