Sometimes it’s easy to lull ourselves into that comfortable mindset that our day-to-day decisions only impact us — that it doesn’t really matter what we do, because the effects of our choices start and end with us.
I think, with rare exception, that’s actually pretty far from the case.
Many of choices we make day-to-day have very real impact on others.
For examples, in no particular order:
- Choosing to like and share a piece of spurious content (unverified news claims, convincing misinformation, etc.) might end up steering dozens or hundreds of people’s worldviews further from Truth when your recommendation shows up in their feed.
- Choosing to bring cloth bags to the grocery store instead of using single-use plastic can play a part of preventing microplastics buildup in others’ bodies, potentially preventing future disease.
- Choosing to stay up late instead of getting proper rest may result in you being exhausted and missing the opportunity to speak a word of encouragement that might otherwise change somebody’s day/life.
- Choosing to ride a bike instead of drive your car can help slow damage to our atmosphere, which can help ameliorate a potential future refugee crisis.
- Choosing to put in the difficult emotional and administrative work of abstaining from culturally accepted but toxic “normals” (Social Media? Gossip? Whichever other socially accepted but harmful addiction of many you want to name), can unlock the capacity in those around you to step into the same freedom when they hear your story.
In economics, these otherwise unmeasured second-order side effects are called “externalities”. They’re very real effects, but hard to measure because they’re not immediately visible to us when we look at the direct impacts of an action.
They’re there, though; and they’re worth us thinking about once in a while.
So, the next time you ponder a choice you need to make (or, a habit you take for granted) take a minute to ask these questions:
- What are the ways this choice will impact my neighbors?
- How can I make this choice in a way to best love my neighbor — whether my neighbor be geographic, digital, temporal, political, ethnic, or otherwise?
- What is one thing I can do different today that can result in positive externalities, that will indirectly bless my neighbor (even if they never know about it)?
The idea of us working together towards a society where we consistently consider the needs of others before our own excites me and gives me hope.
I think a big part of that simply means choosing to do the hard work of loving our neighbors through aligning the externalities of our actions such that they result in their good.
How can you do that, today?