It was late one Wednesday evening and my daughter and I were doing our customary drive home from cheer practice in Miami. It’s not unusual for her to unwind by listening to music, texting with friends or scrolling through social media. On that particular night, she came across a video message from someone she had gone to middle school with five years ago. Those years were particularly difficult for her because, well let’s just say she tends to beat to the rhythm of her own drum, is fiercely independent, and outspoken on matters that are important to her. We always joke that she will undoubtedly be a rockstar adult, but those particular personality traits do not typically bode well for a middle schooler. She began to play the message in the car, and I initially thought it was some random inspirational post, prior to realizing it was directed specifically toward her. The girl began by explaining that what she was doing was the butterfly effect….
What is the butterfly effect? The butterfly effect is a discovery wherein initial conditions can have disproportionately large impacts over time. For example, a butterfly beating its wings in Africa, can affect the weather in New York City. So imagine the effect that one random act of kindness can have on another and another and another, ultimately connecting all of us in unimaginable ways. Ultimately, the cumulative impact of these random acts of kindness could be even greater than that of the butterfly effect.
In the message to my daughter, the girl explained that she was apologizing for the way she treated her in the sixth grade, stating that she was a follower and very insecure. Now a 10th grade high school student, and still insecure per her self report, she recognized that the way she had behaved was cruel and unkind. She humbly offered her apologies with grace and maturity, hoping that this random act of kindness would be positively received. It took my daughter a minute to remember who she was, only to later connect that my daughter and her friends had included this girl as they walked down the school hallway together the other day. It was not until she listened to the message that my daughter connected it was the same girl. Perhaps one act of kindness begets another.
In DBT, we frequently talk about relational repair. On our consultation team, if someone is frequently late or has missed a team meeting, they may offer a repair to the group as an apology of sorts. This may include baking cookies, reading an inspirational poem or sharing an artifact or story from their training or travel that kept them out of the group the previous week. We also teach in DBT class that while over apologizing when unwarranted can negatively impact one’s self-worth, when we have done wrong to someone, a simple apology is indicated, reflecting accountability for our behavior and choices.
DBT also speaks about the idea of reciprocity in relationships. We often discuss the principal that when we ‘give,’ we ‘get’ as well. For example, giving to others (via volunteering, our time, sending a kind note, holding the door open for a stranger), might momentarily shift our focus away from our own suffering, which provides us a temporary reprieve, hence ‘getting’ in the process as well. I can only assume that the message left for my daughter resulted in the other girl feeling some sense of emotional release and positivity. The cumulative net effect for both girls, I would imagine, was even greater.
So what if…..
We could all commit to engaging in just one random act of kindness with the hope that the next person will pay it forward and so on and so on and so on. In a world focused on so much pain and suffering, if we all pledge to do our part in spreading light, love and positivity, imagine the cumulative effect that could have. They say our children are our greatest teachers. If this young girl had the courage to do what she did, could we take a feather from her book and
follow suit? I challenge each and every one of you to do so in the weeks to come. 🦋 🦋 🦋