You don't have to be a "person of influence" to be influential. In fact, the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they've taught me." Scott Adams
Stumbling through channels at the gym this weekend, I came across a televised sermon that caught my attention. The preacher was explaining a passage about people being the salt of the earth. His interpretation was that salt was like influence - even a little bit of salt changes the taste of food and that we, by the nature of our character, can and do influence people in our lives in discrete and quiet ways. He went on to say that it's often the unintended influence that seems to make the biggest impact.
We may try to change the behaviors, beliefs and attitudes of our children, spouses, friends and co-workers through discussion or reasoning and this certainly has its place. I think the message though, is that how we live our lives not only influences those around us but also people who are not necessarily in our closest circles.
Character as is a language that transcends age and diversity. From the window of my shop, I recently saw a young man in a parked car across the street throw his fast food waste out the window and into the street, as if the world was his personal garbage can. I was so infuriated and I wanted the opportunity to personally return his garbage to him in a way that would embarrass, humble and change him. While playing out the angry scenario in my head and considering the fact that it was probably not the smartest thing I could do, I looked over and saw a woman quietly and with no fanfare, pick up the trash and toss it in the garbage can. She had no words for him and didn't seem to even want to catch his eyes with hers.
I watched the young man watch her walk away. Maybe he was expecting a tongue-lashing that never came. She continued on her walk and never looked back. He stayed in his car with his friends for a few minutes longer and I wondered what he was thinking. As the car started up again, the passenger door opened and another young man emerged with a crumpled white bag in his hand. He stopped in his tracks, eyed the garbage can and hit a three-pointer from the outside then got back in the car and they took off.
I considered what I had just witnessed. Even if the story had a different ending and the second man threw his trash in the street, I wondered if the woman's behavior would have planted a seed in the minds of these two young men for future harvest. The fact is though; the second batch of trash was deposited in an appropriate manner. It's all in what we do and how we lead our lives. She was not trying to make a statement nor did she set out to influence the perpetrators or anyone looking on and yet her actions had an impact on not only the people in car, but me as well.
Maybe you don't spend much time thinking about the kind of person you are, but if you consider all the people you come across on a daily basis, you might realize that the web that holds us all together is vast and complex and that your actions may very well influence others around you - whether you like it or not. Living a life that, in our own way, sets an example is likely the most powerful way to impact the world around us.
So when you choose to adopt a "meatless Monday," when you seek out fresh, local food and prepare it yourself, when you walk or ride your bike instead of driving, when you opt not to spray your lawn with dangerous pesticides and herbicides, when you plant your own garden or help build a school or community garden, when you go for a run, when you act kindly and patiently to family and strangers alike and when you pick up someone else's trash - your actions have a quiet ripple effect on the people around you. It's a good reason to consider who we are on a very personal level - our character, our integrity, what we do when no one is looking and how we live our lives. We are all connected in this crazy universe and what we do matters when we least expect it.
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