Quantum physics, which studies subatomic phenomena, has shown that in certain circumstances, two subatomic particles — even if separated by millions of miles — can instantly influence each other even faster than the speed of light. Imagine two billiard balls, one in Paris and the other in Denver. By altering the billiard ball in Denver you have automatically, even instantly, altered the one in Paris as well. Something similar happens with subatomic particles: no matter how far apart, the changing of one instantly changes the other faster than the speed of light. They seem to be inexplicably entangled, which is why this phenomena is called Quantum Entanglement. 

Have you ever heard of the Butterfly Effect? This concept suggests that a butterfly flapping its wings in the jungles of Brazil can start a chain of events that lead to a winter storm in London a month later. This effect shows just how powerfully and deeply the elements in our world can influence each other.

Of course, we know all about influence in real-time too, without understanding Quantum Entanglement or the Butterfly Effect. Unless living alone — and never coming into contact with anyone, whether in person or via social media — we know how much we influence one another. Every day our actions, words, tone of voice, moods and even our facial expressions can impact other people just as they can impact us.

Who hasn’t felt the difference in how a smiling, courteous and graciously helpful store employee, in contrast to a cold, unfriendly, unsmiling one, can affect your mood or impact your day? A quick exchange, even with a total stranger that might not last more than a few seconds, can often deeply influence how we feel for hours depending on the situation. That’s how powerful our influences are. 

In college, Bill felt crushed by the weight of the world (as we all experience from time to time), and had intended to return to his dorm room to hang himself from a stern pipe that ran across the ceiling from a noose he had already made. About half a block from his room where a bleak death awaited him, another student whom he had recognized from a class the last semester but didn’t remember his name was walking past. Noticing Bill, he stopped. “Hi, Bill,” he said with a friendly smile. “How are you?” They talked for no more than two minutes and when they departed, this man’s kindness, gentleness and humble sincerity in being happy to see Bill flipped a switch in him. His desperately hopeless mood changed, and so drastically that Bill took down the noose, threw it away and began meeting with a counselor. 

Twenty-five years later Bill says, “I still don’t know his name.”

We all influence others. Attitude, mood and personality flow out from us like ripples in water. Just as you have sensed how others’ moods, darkly sour or giddily sweet, can bring you up or take you down, you can have the same impact on those around you.

“You cannot get through a single day,” said Jane Goodall, “without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” 

Of course, we all have bad days when feigning a smile seems like a lie and however much you might feel like crawling into the proverbial hole until it passes, you don’t always have that option; you have places to go, people to meet, things to do with others. Even in cases like these, you must try your best.

A quick stop to say hello; a smile; a friendly, enthusiastic wave; a few moments to show interest in someone else and their life; a bit of concentrated effort to be nice just for the sake of being nice; sometimes even just a “Like” on social media. These little things can have a big impact, more than we might realize.

Research also reveals that showing kindness, friendliness or a concern for others impacts you as well. We have all felt that sense of goodness, warmth and satisfaction when doing something good for someone else purely for the sake of doing it without wanting or expecting anything in return. By helping people feel appreciated, by bringing a snippet of cheer, goodness or positive energy, you can make yourself feel better as well. You both feel happier and the whole room, subtly or overtly, lights up.

The Bible says, “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). There is a plethora of evil out there and just as there is only one right answer to a math problem (but an infinite number of wrong ones), there are so many more ways things can go wrong than right. Yet no matter how wrong things might go, small, deliberate acts of goodness, kindness or concern are always right. Though maybe not as quickly as Quantum Entanglement or as broadly as the Butterfly Effect, these acts can influence a significant difference to those around you. You do not need to be a physicist to experience that difference, either. You can feel it the moment it happens.

Written by Clifford Goldstein