Wendy Priesnitz - writer, editor, changemaker
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Be Like a Butterfly

The Butterfly Effect

I've been reading up on Chaos Theory as a way of understanding our current turbulent times. I had a sense that it might provide me with some inspiration to move past despair about the problems we've created and towards remembering that we can also be the solution.

If you're not familiar with it, here's Wikipedia's thumbnail definition: “Chaos Theory is an interdisciplinary theory and branch of mathematics ... [It] states that within the apparent randomness of chaotic complex systems, there are underlying patterns, interconnectedness, constant feedback loops, repetition, self-similarity, fractals, and self-organization.”

What is metaphorically called The Butterfly Effect is one of the underlying principles of Chaos Theory. Mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz explained this principle in the 1960s using the metaphor of a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil and setting off a tornado in Texas awhile later. (The actual metaphor is credited to author and screenwriter Ray Bradbury in his 1952 short story A Sound of Thunder.) Lorenz observed the effect when he was running a computerized weather model with data that had become rounded, in a seemingly inconsequential manner, from his original input. The results using the very slightly changed initial data differed significantly from one using the more precise, unrounded data. This idea that a small action can create a major change has been around for hundreds of years. For instance, in 1800, German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte wrote that “you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby ... changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole.”

Chaos Theory involves fractal mathematics and I'm not a mathematician (to put it mildly). But I do know that ecosystems, our social systems, and our economic systems are interconnected. And I'm pretty sure that more recognition of that interconnectedness could help us to avoid doing things that might be detrimental to our society's long-term well-being; it wouldn't eliminate destructive human qualities like greed and lust for power, but it could temper them. Chaos Theory also involves unpredictability and explores the transitions between order and disorder. This sure feels like a time of transition, whether to a better life on this planet or something much worse, including human extinction. So, I think that although we may not be able to predict or map all the chaotic connections, we can have faith in their existence and use them to create a life for every species.

Interconnections – and, by extension, The Butterfly Effect – were the foundation of the magazine publishing adventure my husband Rolf and I embarked on in 1976. We've spent the last 45 years sharing ideas about small, personal actions for change and stories about people who are putting those ideas into action. Although the mess we're in today can lead to negativity, despair, resignation, and giving up (all things I've felt my share of), I still believe that our individual choices in our daily lives can have a huge impact. Directly changing social, political, and economic systems is long and hard work. And not all of us are able to directly participate in that work. However, if we live the solutions we'd like to see – even in seemingly insignificant ways – our example can spread to others and the energy we create by doing that will multiply.

I often hear it said that our individual choices make no difference unless governments and corporations and the powers of greed that rule them change course. I don't agree. I think there is an energy produced by our positive actions that others can feel and be influenced by. And, like the butterfly flapping its wings, I hope it can bring us to the tipping point toward recovery. Figuring out and taking those actions at the individual and community level seems like a better use of our time and emotional energy than expressing our anger on social media or shouting our frustration at the universe (or restaurant staff)! So be like a butterfly. If nothing else, it will give you hope.

Wendy Priesnitz

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copyright (c) 2023

Beyond School by Wendy Priesnitz    Natural Life's Green and Healthy Homes by Wendy Priesnitz    It Hasn't Shut Me Up by Wendy Priesnitz    Challenging Assumptions in Education by Wendy Priesnitz    Life Learning by Wendy Priesnitz