"It used to be thought that the events that changed the world were things like big bombs, maniac politicians, huge earthquakes, or vast population movements, but it has now been realized that this is a very old-fashioned view… The things that really change the world, according to Chaos theory, are the tiny things. A butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazonian jungle, and subsequently a storm ravages half of Europe.”
—Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, in Good Omens
When I first learned about the Chaos Theory during the summer before my 8th Grade Year, I never expected it to have such a profound impact on my spirituality.
Meteorologist Edward Lorenz first “discovered” the Chaos Theory when he realized that one small, infinitesimally small, change, can lead to a dramatically different result. And he proved it with math. In a complex system, one small change can lead to a result that hadn’t ever been imagined.
Meteorologists dubbed this the butterfly effect, which hypothesizes that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the globe could cause a tornado in another. The weather system is too complex to fully ever be predicted – one small change, the butterfly flapping its wings, could lead to a dramatically different result in the end. The more complex the system, the more likely it is a small change can have a drastic impact.
Now, what system out there is more complex than life? If the Chaos Theory proves that in complex systems, small changes lead to dramatic results, then it follows that the Chaos Theory also proves that in life, a small change can also lead to a dramatic result.
This is an incredibly empowering thought to me: small changes in my personal life can lead to dramatic improvements years down the road. And the small changes I try to make through engaging in social justice work have the potential to change the entire world.
So often I’ve felt overwhelmed about social justice. How can I change the entire world? It’s too hard, too complicated to change the world — I’m just one person. How often have you felt something similar?
We have to have faith to take these small actions. We have to have faith that in the end our small actions matter, that our small actions will lead to the result we want. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. We can’t predict what will happen when a small change has been entered into a complex system; the only thing we can predict is that we’ve changed the future in some way.
Every single one of us can make a change, today, that will change the future in ways we can’t possibly imagine today. What change will you make?
May we all be reminded of our own agency in changing the world. Let us all take small actions that build off each other and change the world in beautiful and unexpected ways.