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?