The Ripple Effect of Listening

The Ripple Effect of Listening

by Rebecca Buell | May 08, 2020

Ripple Effect (noun): A spreading, pervasive and unusually unintentional effect, influence, or series of consequences caused by a single action

Physics is the study of matter, its motion and behavior through space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. I’m no physics expert. In fact, I left high school early and somehow never even took a physics course. My 17-year-old son is quite the physics fan, though, so the bit that I know comes from Khan Academy, Hollywood, and him.

The study of movement, energy, force…it applies not to just physical things like air currents or matter, but these theories can be seen within human interactions, too. This week it has me reflecting on the movement through which Our Community Listens equips people for Truly Human Connection.

It’s hard to tell where the movement started. Perhaps in a CEO’s heart around 20 years ago in Colorado when he started seeing his people, not as objects to be managed, but as family members and someone’s beloved child. Perhaps it started with a teacher and leader writing a new professional development workshop in a small coffee shop in Michigan. Perhaps it started with a factory tour in Wisconsin. Or, perhaps it started with an international business leader in Singapore reading a book and passing her copy of Everybody Matters on to a friend so they could begin dreaming together of a Truly Human Leadership revolution to take place in Asia as it’s begun in the United States.

While we can’t pinpoint where it began, we do know that the ripple effect is very real, and it starts with the power of one: one person choosing to be more patient, humane, caring, intentional, purposeful, grounded…one person choosing to listen to understand instead of listening to respond. And that ripple eases out, bit-by-bit, to change the world around it.

This isn’t just poetic humanism, friends, nor is it rote leadership idealism. It’s physics. Within physics there is a sub-category called “Chaos Theory” that studies systems that look random but aren’t. Chaos theory shows that tiny, almost unnoticeable changes in the present can lead to big changes in the future. This works with air patterns, jet streams, and weather for example – even to the point that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause a ripple effect, a “butterfly effect,” that can be felt in raging storms on the other side of the world.

So, who knows where the ripple effect that led to Our Community Listens partnering with a group in Asia began – perhaps Colorado 20 years ago, perhaps Wisconsin 15 years ago, Michigan 12 years back, or last January when our partnership application process began? What we do know is that small changes – choosing to value people, choosing to live authentically out of the truths we hold dear, choosing to listen, share a passion, share a courageous vision – can change the world for someone you may never meet. To hear more about the ripple effect, the power of one, and the story of how our vision for creating a more caring society is creating ripples on the other side of the globe, check out the Truly Human Leadership podcast with my friends Marsha Burns, David VanderMolen, and Brent Stewart here.

Margaret Mead is credited with the inspirational statement, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” That, my friends, describes how you – your own caring, and your own choices – flow out and, ripple-by-ripple, change the world. It’s not hopeful thinking, friends. It’s physics.

Caring alongside you,