Trains and Ripples: How your decisions can mess up someone else’s day

On Monday, I missed the train. I wasn’t late, there was no train crash, nothing drastic happened. The train conductor simply decided to leave a few minutes early. Four and half minutes early, to be exact. I know this because I missed the train by no more than ten seconds and was on the platform, out of breath checking the time.

This one, seemingly small action on the conductor’s part had a major impact on my day. Instead of one train home, it now meant two taxis, a bus and traffic. Instead of air-conditioned comfort and relative safety where I could spend 20 valuable minutes working or reading, I got an uncomfortable muggy bus and was wary of using my phone. All because of a few minutes.

Lately, I’ve been reading “Reflections; or Sentences and Moral Maxims” by Fran├žois duc de La Rochefoucauld. It’s filled with short, concise little epigrammatic sentences that boil concepts down to a short quip. Like one liners for philosophers.

While Googling around to find more examples epigrams, aphorisms and maxims, I found this one, in the field of Human Ecology.

We can never do merely one thing (i.e. everything is connected). – Garrett Hardin’s Three Laws of Human Ecology

The train driver could never just do one thing – leave a few minutes early. He changed my day, my mood, the way I felt when I interacted with others later that day. In a word: Ripples.

And this got me to thinking about all the seemingly small actions and decisions we take on a daily basis that influence other people in ways that are exponentially beyond our comprehension.

In my capacity as a manger/ leader of a team of people, I’ve made a concious effort to try and see the ripples of my actions. For the most part, I’m not smart enough to make the connections, but when I do manage a line between the dots, it’s scary to see how we can change the lives of others with actions that mean little or nothing to us.

I ‘m interested by this new perspective, and will definitely try to see the more far reaching consequences of my actions, no matter how small they may be.