By Miriam Merrill
Society boasts that you may choose do whatever you like as long as it does not affect others. As an advocate of freedom I agree that within legal bounds we are each allowed to make our own choices. However, we too often falsely claim certain actions “do not affect others” when, in fact, I would propose that there is not a single choice we could make that would not affect someone else.
Children are often the unfortunate victims of our subconscious but selfish ignorance. Many studies have proven how intensely our actions and beliefs impact the children we come in contact with. One study found that newborns will mimic facial expressions they see. Another discovered that as babies fourteen through eighteen months old begin to develop cultural recognition and social skills they imitate both the intentional and the accidental actions of adults. If adults affect children on this rudimentary level, certainly our beliefs and actions will shape children even more as they grow.
Of course, if our actions can affect others for the worse, we must also consider the good that can result from our choices. How many of us have been inspired by the lives of Gandhi, Mother Theresa, or Nelson Mandela? There are countless individuals in history who decided to, and did, make the world a better place. Maurice Hilleman developed more vaccines in his lifetime than any other scientist ever has and saved countless lives. Rick Rescorla was a retired United States Army officer working in the World Trade Center buildings on September 11th, 2001. He evacuated most of Morgan Stanley’s 2,687 employees and turned around one last time to make sure everyone was out when the tower collapsed, ending his life. There is a lot of ugly in this world, but there is also so much goodness. Living more thoughtfully and purposefully will enable us to spread goodness and light further than we thought possible, mitigating the effects of the self-centered choices much of society makes today.
Author Dennis Jones suggests, “So, the question we must ask ourselves isn’t, will I make a difference in the world? The real question is, what kind of difference will it be? May the ripples you send forth this day be guided by the impulse of loving-kindness, selflessness, non-judgment, compassion, and joy. This is what our world needs now and you are the “perfect pebble” to make some mighty waves.”
We live in an ironically self-centered world. Everyone seems to be a self-proclaimed activist, doing their part to advocate for the rights of others, save the planet, and serve those around them. But we also throw around catchy rhetoric like “You do you” and “YOLO”, which both imply that we should only worry about ourselves and disregard the effects our choices have on others. The truth is that you cannot have it both ways. You cannot ignorantly boast that there are no consequences to your actions while simultaneously believing that your efforts can help others. You cannot picket for abortion while advocating for rights of children; the two are mutually exclusive. You cannot push for the legalization of same-sex adoptions and at the same time express your belief that children should not have a political or religious agenda pushed on them; the two are mutually exclusive. Let us “practice what we preach”, take time to make choices purposefully and thoughtfully, and conduct our lives in accordance with that which we advocate.