Butterflies and Hurricanes

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

(Robert F Kennedy)

Like the majority of people within my social circle and beyond, I have become mildly addicted to the gripping series, Breaking Bad
To outline the premise of the programme for those who have resisted the media attention, take one chemistry teacher, Walter White, tell him he has an incurable disease and watch him turn to criminal activity to source funds for his family. A loveable mastermind with the best intentions and a daft sidekick, Walt gets caught up in all sorts of trouble and mix-ups, making for a comedy drama enjoyed by millions. Now, this blog isn’t about Breaking Bad, but a certain episode I watched recently did grasp my attention.

It got my thinking about what we know was ‘the butterfly effect

Without getting too technical, the butterfly effect is an element of chaos theory that details how the slightest change in circumstance at the start of any pattern can have dramatic effects on the end result. The phrase ‘Butterfly effect’ was coined by Edward Lorenz, deriving from the theoretical example of a hurricane’s formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before. I began thinking about how the smallest things can affect the grand scheme of things. The ‘what ifs’ of life.

So, in Breaking Bad, here’s what happened:

There was a plane crash. The plane crashed because the air traffic controller wasn’t paying attention. The air traffic controller wasn’t paying attention because he was grieving the death of his daughter. The death of his daughter was the result of a drug overdose. The drug overdose was a result of befriending a local drug dealer. The drug dealer was in business because of Walter’s mission to make money. Walter was trying to make money after hearing he had cancer. So essentially, Walter having cancer caused the death of hundreds of people in a tragic plane crash. Cancer is the butterfly, the plane crash is the hurricane.

I can think of several things that have happened to me and I’ve thought “If I hadn’t been at that place, at that time, something would or wouldn’t have happened”. I once pulled my car over to answer a phone call. As I pulled over, the car that would have been behind me crashed into the car in front. If my Mum hadn’t called at that exact moment, would the car have crashed into mine instead? What if my Mum had called 30 seconds later?

When the Pentagon was attacked on 9/11, my Godfather should have been inside the building. Right where the plane hit. He had rescheduled his trip just days before due to a family death. In essence, had the death not occurred, my Godfather would have almost certainly died. Mind boggling, isn’t it?

I’m sure we all have these anecdotal stories about things very similar. Sometimes it isn’t as drastic as this. It can be meeting people. My sister and her boyfriend are very happy together. Had she not called in to visit me on the night I introduced them, who knows if they would have met. Sometimes the endings are happy ones.

My point is that there are so many things that happen in life that are beyond our control. Our actions will often have an impact on others around us, or the environment around us without us having any idea, or in fact control, of it.

Some people would argue against this. Some people would argue that everything in life is predestined and predetermined. Some people would argue that you can change destiny.

Whatever you believe it is important not to dwell on the ‘what ifs’ and remember that everything you do, no matter how small, can potentially have a bigger impact somewhere down the line.




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