Until my teenage years, I lived primarily in rural communities, where my dad was a pastor in small country churches. These were sparsely populated areas by urban and suburban standards, with the closest neighbors usually living 1/2 to 1 mile apart. But there was no question these places were communities, much more so than any urban or suburban place I’ve lived since.
As elsewhere, people were drawn into community through the things they had in common: schools, churches, the shared rhythms of agricultural life. They knew each other and each other’s business, for better or worse.
There are many reasons such places are great for growing kids (and reasons they’re not), and one of them is the advantage of forming your sense of self among a lot of people who are close enough to help you figure it out. Living in the kind of un-engineered inter-generational community that forms in such places, at least back then, a kid like me had a lot of opportunities to explore the impact people have on each other.
When you graduate from eighth grade with four other people (as I did), it’s pretty much impossible not to be noticed. It’s all but impossible to ignore the approval and disapproval of the older folks and their advice for “kids these days.” And it’s tough to miss the fact that every individual has something to offer the rest of the community–or the power to cause erosion. While I didn’t always feel appreciated in these places, I never felt invisible.
I saw the same people often, especially the people who were part of our church–and especially the ones who were there, like us, every time the lights were on. My interactions with them were significant and helped to shape me, and I doubt many of them have any idea how much our interactions mattered to me. The adult volunteers who trusted me to help them with little things they probably thought were insignificant. The high school boy who once told me I had a nice smile. The sweet ladies who said I had pretty hair. The Sunday school teachers who took my questions and prayers seriously. The ones who didn’t. The older gentleman we could count on to yell at all the kids to “stop running in church” every time we started having fun.
Some of these people intended to influence my life; some of them didn’t. Some left incidental impressions, lacking purpose. But they all had an impact.
And so do you.
When I work with new coaching clients, we take some time to discuss their impact on the world and other people, especially when they’re at their best. People have varying degrees of awareness about the kind of impact they make on the people around them, and I’m not surprised when a person doesn’t have a good sense for exactly how their lives affect others. It’s something I’ve struggled with myself. But what does surprise me is when people truly believe they don’t have any impact on the world around them. Whether from a desire for humility or from a wounded spirit, this sense that a person can go through life without causing ripples is false.
I understand why the notion of impact can be intimidating. For some it sounds too much like pride, assumes too much capability, requires that we take responsibility for the power we have to bless or curse other people. But it really is inescapable; everyone has impact. It can be mostly positive or mostly negative–but as beings made in God’s image and made for (and in) relationship from the moment we are born, we cannot go through life without affecting others with our behaviors, words, and attitudes. This is part of the awesome God-given power of being human. It’s not conceited to believe this, and it is irresponsible to walk around influencing other people with no intention or awareness of what we’re doing.
Part of living well is taking ownership of our impact. We need to understand how we affect other people, both when we’re at our best and at our worst. Once we recognize specifically what kind of impact we have, we can embrace it and make it an intentional and inspirational part of our lives. We can make it part of our purpose in this world. We can make choices that put us in a good position to do for others what we do best–protect them, lead them, accept them, offer them something beautiful. We can hand our best efforts to God as “a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable” (Romans 12:1). And in God’s hands, our impact becomes much more.
So own your impact! Recognize it and put some intention behind it. The way you live helps shape the world, whether you mean it or not.
© 2015 Amy Simpson.