There has been a theme that has been coming up in my life a bit over the past couple of years, and I was thinking about it this morning and thought maybe I should write about it. That theme would be the impact we have on others. Sometimes I am struck by how much of an impact we can have on other people’s lives, and how much others impact my life.
Now, you might say, “Shouldn’t you already know that, you are in social work aren’t you?” The answer to that is probably yes, but, social workers are humans too and even people who have had Systems Theory beaten into their heads for years sometimes forget.
Realizing the impact I have on others has come up both professionally and personally. I remember the first time I was really struck by my influence on another person; it was at a job a couple of years ago. I can’t say where this was, but there was a teenage girl that I was working with, and though we are not supposed to have favorites, I must admit she was probably my favorite person that I’ve worked with. I had taken some time off and when I came back, discovered from other staff that she had gotten into some trouble for stealing. When I talked to her next, she admitted that she had done something bad (without my bringing it up), but said she didn’t really want to tell me because she thought I would be disappointed or upset with her. I thought “seriously? You’re looking at getting in real trouble and you’re worried about what I think?” But then it hit me that I had managed to form a relationship with this girl, and she actually cared if I was personally disappointed with her behavior. Of course, this is the part where a person should tread very carefully, and my personal feelings about her actions should not come anywhere near the conversation; navigating that was a bit tricky but certainly doable. We left the conversation with her anxiety about telling me lifted, and both of us feeling pleased with her honesty.
I remember driving home that day realizing that the way I interact with other people really does matter. It seems trite to phrase it that way, but I think before that point, I hadn’t recognized the degree to which what I do and say has a clear impact on other people. I had the power in that situation to either make that girl feel terrible and condemned, or respected and treated like a young adult even in the face of poor decisions.
This is what I try to remember in the rest of my life, although I am far from perfect at it. It can be a bit easier to be that person at work too, than in my personal life. I think part of the reason for that is at work, a person has to be conscious of their relationships with clients/customers/coworkers, etc. In our personal lives, it gets a little more muddled, because everything becomes, well…personal.
I will be the first to admit, I forget in my day-to-day life that how I speak to people, behave, etc. effects others. I think part of the reason for this is how I grew up; in my childhood, quite frankly, I did not feel like I mattered. You know that old fashioned phrase, “children should be seen and not heard”? Well, in our house, it was better not to be seen, nor heard. I do not say any of this to evoke pity, or anything like it; it is simply an observation. So I grew up feeling like a neutral object to the people around me. I was not aware that anything I did effected anyone else until my teenage years, and even then my view was a tad skewed. And so, to a degree, I think this self-image has carried over into my adult life.
Now, I am very aware that I matter, and that what I think, do, and say does matter, so don’t worry about that. I am not quite that morose. But I do think that I forget sometimes the degree to which I impact others. It can be easy to get lost in the crowd of others, and because I am naturally a “blend-in” type of person, this is especially so.
And, based off of some conversations I have had with others, this is not a phenomenon unique to myself. I think a lot of people go through life forgetting (or not realizing at all) their impact on the world around them. That is not to say that people are running around doing terrible things because they don’t care; what I mean is that there are lots of perfectly great people who feel like they just blend in with the rest of the world, who believe that that they are mediocre, medium, that there is nothing exceptional about them. So, they feel that they do not have much of an impact on others because there is nothing exceptional enough about them to influence someone else.
But the truth is, we all have something exceptional about us that does effect someone else. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing or narcissistic to admit that to ourselves. We impact and influence the people and the world around us. We may not think it or even see it in our day-to-day lives, but we do. The things we think, do, and say matter in our relationships, whether those are professional, intimate, friendships, or even brief acquaintances. So regardless of the relationship to another, we should be aware of ourselves, and we should care about the kind of person we are. This, by the way, is not going to turn into a rant about morals or anything like that. The “stuff” that you are made of is for you to decide on your own.
But for now, look for something about yourself that is exceptional. It doesn’t matter if you think it is a “big deal” or not. For example, I am quite good at parallel parking. You might think this is a silly example, but I’m quite proud of my ability to fit cars into tiny parking spots. And if I wasn’t good at this, by now I might have ruined a lot of people’s days down in Albany by clipping their cars trying to park my car. You may be good at counseling friends when they need it, good at building houses, or you may be a talented knitter. It all matters.
It also probably goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, that we should carry this action over into our relationships. What are we good at doing in our friendships, romantic relationships, familial relationships, etc? What are we not good at? And how does that effect the people who hold significant roles in our lives…and those who don’t? For my part, I can be hugely unaware of how I effect people around me. And for those who may have been negatively impacted by this flaw, I apologize, and will try to be better.
I suppose that’s enough rambling for now 🙂