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  June 18, 2010
The Butterfly Effect

 
Perhaps it’s a sign of middle age, but recently I’ve been engaged in some long serious talks with some friends and family members who seem to be in search of life’s meaning.  One day, it seems, they woke up and looked in the mirror and wondered who that person was staring back at them.  For some unknown reason, it doesn’t appear as though they are happy with the person they’ve become...  

These people are just ordinary...

Typically these friends are modestly successful, intelligent, and caring.  They are mothers and fathers to their growing children, daughters and sons to their aging parents.  They are business professionals who work hard to put food on the table, a roof over their family’s head, and send their children to the best schools possible.  They go on family vacations, clean the house and mow the lawn on the weekend (or more likely hire a housekeeper and gardener), and watch their favorite sports teams on the high-definition TV in the den.  They attend social events with their friends and go the gym 3 times a week. 
 
They are in every sense living the American dream...yet they seem so unfulfilled.
 
One of the great mysteries to me, when talking with them, is how they appear to be delving into their early childhood in order to try and discover what brought them to this horrible "ordinary" place.   While I don’t disagree that a certain amount of a person’s character and experiences are derived from the environment from which they came, there is countless anecdotal and scientific evidence showing that there are people who came from nothing and overcame great obstacles to achieve great success in life.  Additionally, there is evidence that there are some people who were blessed with great resources and a safe, loving environment yet squandered those opportunities and found profound failure. 
 
Therefore, there is little correlation to predict a person’s probable success or failure due to their environment and up-bringing alone.
 
Imagine for a moment an ice cube sitting on a flat table top at room temperature.  Now imagine that same ice cube in say five hours.  Visualize what you think that ice cube will look like after those five hours.  If you’re like most people your visual image would probably be that of a puddle of water, circular in shape, and a few millimeters deep.  Projecting into the future is fairly an easy task in this scenario.
 
Now imagine that you’ve walked into an empty room and you see a puddle of water, circular in shape and a few millimeters in depth on a table top.  Can you say for sure where that puddle came from?  Was it from a hole in the roof?  Was it from a spill not mopped up?  Was it from a melting ice sitting on the table?...and if it was from melting ice...what was the original shape of that ice?...was it a cube?...a pyramid?...a sphere?  There is very little known about the cause...we just see the effect (the puddle) and can only speculate on the cause...

The ice cube paradox (you can accurately predict the effect of the heat on an ice cube but you can’t accurately determine the cause of the puddle back to an ice cube) is a example of our personality and character development.     
 
There is a popular theory today called "Chaos Theory" where scientists theorize that the flapping wings of a butterfly in India can potentially cause a tornado in Oklahoma or a typhoon in Manila.  Well...I suppose a case could be made for this cause and effect...but then again...that same tornado might have been caused by two hummingbirds mating in Australia, a lion wagging its tail on the plains of east Africa, or a member of the NY Yankees striking out in the Bronx!! 
 
There are just far too many variables going on in this world to know for sure what caused that tornado in Oklahoma and even if we did know what caused that particular tornado, who is to say what will cause the next one in Mississippi?...
 
This same rationale goes into the making of the person we are today.  We all have unique experiences, skills, talents, education, environment, and perspective.  Does birth order explain why you chose to major in "languages of ancient civilizations" but are now unprepared to find a job?  Is it correct to assume that finishing in 12th place in the 3rd grade spelling bee pushed you to get a 785 on the verbal section of the SAT test allowing you to get into an Ivy League school?  Did watching too much TV when you were growing up cause you to develop an eating disorder that lead to heart disease and diabetes?...

The correct answer to these questions (and countless other questions) is "I don’t know"...and neither do you...so stop trying to figure it all out...there may be a cause and effect...but there may NOT be any either...there are just too many variables to really know for sure...and even if you did know...how would that change the person you are today?
 
The key to being truly happy is not searching the past to find out what caused you to be who you are and who to blame if your life didn’t turn out perfect but rather working to consistently improve yourself, help others and by making the world a better place for all of us. 

Life isn’t about the past...it’s about the future.
 
What I want to be when I grow up is just an ordinary person trying to live an extra-ordinary life...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse as we try to discover what we can do to most positively effect the lives of others.




Jim Kalb
President
OptiFuse
jimk@optifuse.com

Previous Blogs

The Unforgettable Family Vacation

Happiness in Hard Times

The Law of Unintended Consequences

What Was the Question Again?

Give it a Rest for a Moment...

A Big Hole in the Ground

This for That

 

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