The Ripple Effect

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The anthropologist, Margaret Mead said that. She was talking about the ripple effect—one small stone cast into the lake can expand the ripple more widely than the small beginning.

It is this way with anger as well. It can be passed on from generation to generation without seeming to stop. One June night I witnessed the ripple effect of anger in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  It was late June, the beginning of “parade season,” when British and Irish communities stage parades to remember their heritage, including battles between them that took place over 300 years ago. In those battles one side won, the other lost. And anger raged.

On that June night, youth from each group gathered on either side of the street. They had hatred in their eyes as they glared at each other, daring the other to make the first move. In a small way, they were replaying the Battle of the Boyne, fought between King William of Orange and King James II in 1690. Think about that for a moment. A battle was fought in the 17th century and its effects are being seen and felt in the 21st century in the Ardoyne neighborhood of Belfast.

Police cars came, the crowds grew, and in a short while there was rock throwing, hatred, and rioting……among youth who probably have never met each other. They hate each other without a direct cause. The cause is a ripple effect from hundreds of years ago, when one side won and the other lost. That night in June in the 21st century, everyone lost.

It seems too easy for the ripple effect to be seen when anger takes root. It made me think: Can we start a ripple effect of forgiveness in such a community, even if it is a “small group of thoughtful, committed individuals?” This would seem possible, but it further seems to me that it requires special care, a kind of care that anger does not need to stay alive. The small group of thoughtful, committed individuals could start a ripple effect of forgiveness, but they would have to know this: The ripple effect of goodness is much more easily disrupted by anger than the ripple effect of anger is disrupted by goodness.

It is too easy to stay angry. It is not nearly as easy to stay forgiving and good. We need that small group of thoughtful and committed individuals to stay strong and to pass that sense of passionate commitment to the next generation. How is this accomplished?


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Categories: Forgiving Communities, Our Forgiveness Blog


  1. Samantha says:

    Based on the research papers on this site, your group already has made the inroads. As another idea, why not get a small group of people from one or two local churches in Belfast to team up with you. They could have forgiveness talks in the church and be encouraged to bring forgiveness into their places of employment, for example.

  2. Chris says:

    I like Samantha’s idea. Why not get some ministers and priests to help out or maybe retired ministers/priests to help out?

  3. Deborah says:

    Is there a foundation that would support this? I recommend getting a grant and then paying a small stipend to the participating teachers and a monetary gift (small) to each school that participates. It shows that you realize how busy teachers are. This would get people’s attention.

  4. Robin Christoph says:

    Families. Contact families first because the family is the bedrock of any society.

  5. Tesch says:

    The perspective taken here is a wake-up call for me. I can see how my father had bottled-up anger in him and he passed some of that onto me and to my sister. I do not want to give it my children who could pass it on to their children.

  6. Brian says:

    “It is too easy to stay angry.” You’ve got that right! Our spoiled culture just doesn’t get it. People seem to think that life owes them a living and when it doesn’t happen they throw a pineapple nutty!


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