My life would be incomplete without the influence of my brothers. I was in conversation with my brother Kyle about the book I am working on, about life and faith. That dialogue eventually resulted in the thought that sparked this post. Much of what we discussed seemed blog-worthy, but one particular thought came that I knew I would need to expand on and that is the idea of our influence.
We influence reality even if we squander the opportunity to exercise that ability in an intentional and directional way. No matter if you have resigned yourself to ‘it is what it is’ fatalism, or if you live deliberately to change the world, you will have an influence in creating reality and not just reality for yourself either. We are creating reality for ourselves, but we are also creating reality for those whom we come in physical contact with and possibly even in realms beyond that.
I believe it is easy to understand that if a person shoves another person physically they have altered something about the other person’s physical outcomes. No, that action will not determine if the person has a good day or bad day, but you might change the way their day plays out if you push them hard enough that they fall and break their arm. Again, they could be happily in the emergency room despite the pain, but you still have shaped some part of how their day progresses even if it did not break their spirit by your influence.
Good parents attempt to influence the decisions of their children. I believe it is safe to presume that most parents do not want their children to become violent criminals and would attempt to in some way prevent that outcome. Parents do have some influence over the direction of their children, perhaps mostly by genetics and not by things taught or at least that is where Steve Pinker suggests the evidence points. However, parents do have an influence and that true whether or not they have given up on trying or if they stay entirely engaged.
The epidemic of fatherless homes bears out the reality of parental influence. I would make the argument myself, but fortunately, another blogger has done the numbers for me and you can click that link if you need convincing. The absence of a father correlates with many things we would consider bad and therefore the opposite is also true. Statistics cannot tell us the whole story, but there is definitely some sort of connection and I am guessing the type of interaction also would have a part in the outcomes of children.
The influence of our physical proximity to other people is likely not something that is too much dispute. Our intentional attempts to influence outcomes are a sign also of our belief in an ability to influence others. But what if that is just the tip of the iceberg? Could our very thoughts influence the outcomes for our neighbors beyond even our outward actions? Is our influence deeper than the surface level influence of our own physical reality?
Speaking of the ‘tip of the iceberg’ idiom, one could visualize the Titanic streaming the frigid Atlantic ocean and consider the implications of the block of ice it encountered. The iceberg was visible on the surface and yet the destructive mass of the iceberg was actually below the surface. The Titanic avoided a direct collision with the above water portion, but it was the underwater or invisible influence of the iceberg that ripped open the hull and actually doomed the ship.
Our influence likewise could be more than our spoken words or even our visible actions. I speak now of the realm of our attitudes, spirituality, and faith. We know if we push someone it could shape the outcome of their day, but what if we think well or ill of a person? Do our very thoughts change reality for ourselves, but not only for ourselves and also for others as well? I say, if we are more than just physical beings, if we do also dwell in an extra-dimensional spiritual reality, then we certainly do and should exercise that influence with responsibility as well.
My evidence, if you are Christian and accept the Bible is true, is that the ability of Jesus to heal was blunted where he was not believed (Mark 6:1-5 and Matthew 13:53-58) and the implications of this are huge. If even Jesus, with a more complete faith, was hindered by the faithlessness of others, then how much more will we who struggle with faith be hindered and prevented by those in our midst who do not have faith in our abilities or God’s? I believe we need to be aware of the influence we wield below the surface of physical reality, take ownership of it and use it for the glory of God.
What does it practically mean? I believe it means we extend our love for others to our very thoughts about them. I believe it means we recognize that we might be hindering other people by our very attitudes towards them, severely unfairly limiting the potential they have because of our negativity and perhaps creating them in the image that we have decided for them. This is serious stuff if we consider the implications. The words of Jesus equating hate to murder could be more literal than we realize.
At very least, we do have an influence over what other people think of another person. Things like poisoning the well do actually to some degree shape the opinions of others and could do literal harm to a person by damaging their reputation. We wouldn’t have laws against slander and libel if our words could not be literally destructive of something of value. A person’s reputation is a priceless commodity. Our reputation is what allows us to obtain a job, what another person says about us could be the difference between getting a chance or not.
Do you take seriously how you wield your influence both above and below the water line? Perhaps you do not attempt openly to shape the opinions of others, but do you realize the potential influence of your non-verbal communication and thoughts about the other person? Our influence is not only what we do for a person, but our influence is also what we deliberately choose not to do for a person and our very thoughts could be the spiritual power we withhold from them.
Belief is a powerful influence on reality. Belief is a powerful influence over other people. If we do not have faith in another person we may be effectively killing their ability to use their spiritual gifts effectively even if we do not realize it. Belief also seems to hold some influence over God’s will. The Bible is full of promises for those who have faith, but also gives many examples of where faithlessness influenced outcomes in a negative way and thus we who are spiritual should be aware. Our doubt may cause harm to others.
We need to think of ourselves less as individuals and more as part of an interconnected whole. Certainly, I am a big believer in our individual responsibility. However, I do not see it as an either/or that we are either individual or we are not individual. I believe reality is often better explained as a both/and, which means we are both individual and also a part of the collective whole. We should not tend to one extreme or the other in this regard, we need to embrace both and take 100% responsibility for both.
We are, in fact, our brother’s keeper and he is our keeper as well. In this regard, I am truly blessed to have brothers who care, share and pray for me. I speak first of my thankfulness for biological brothers who are of shared faith and a similar mind, but also of my spiritual brothers as well. I am glad for those who understand their influence over my outcomes and exercise their influence deliberately on my behalf knowing they could be the difference between my success or failure, these are the brothers who I seek.
But, lest this blog post be incomplete, the influence of sisters is as great or greater. In my own religious setting this is an influence downplayed and gender separation outside of marriage encouraged, but to do that is to forget that the best example of love for Jesus was probably the pouring of expensive perfume on his feet by a woman (other than his wife) that drew the ire of his male disciples. I for certain do not underestimate the influence of women. My mother is probably the most influential person in my life and I believe the opinions of women go further with me than those of my male counterparts.
So, in conclusion, one should acknowledge their own full range of influence beyond just what they openly say or intentionally do. One should perceive the potentiality that what is visible on the surface is not the beginning nor the ending of their influence and maybe the smaller part of their influence. We need to take responsibility for how our influence shapes others for better or worse and exercise that influence in a positive way. We should never limit the power of good by our faithlessness in our own influence and shown towards others.
If your influence of word, action or hidden attitude can harm or help other people, what has your influence been? Do you love others with more than just your words, but also with the influence of your thoughts (prayers) and actions? Is your influence positive, do you build the good of others and your own character, or dwell on the negative and destruction?