Seventeenth-century poet, John Donne, first included the phrase, “No man is an island”, in one of his meditations and later composed a poem of the same name. Later, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, a folk song echoed these sentiments,
“No man is an islandNo man stands aloneEach man’s joy is a joy to meEach man’s grief is my own.”
The Message Continues to Resonate
More recently a contemplative Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton penned a book, “No Man is an Island”. There he shares these sentiments:
“Every other man is a piece of myself, for I am a part and a member of mankind. Therefore, no one can yell out in self-righteous indignation,“What is this world coming to?… I am shocked, horrified by how that man acted.”
Like the ripples in a pond after a stone is thrown, our actions continue on – even after our part has been done. While it is easy to feel as though we are the only ones impacted by what we do, that is not the case. We affect everyone around us.
Example to Others
We often set the tone when it comes to the attitude of those surrounding us. Just as one bad apple in a basket of apples will begin to spoil the ones touching it, so too are we responsible for a part of the mindset of the others we encounter. Take as an example the clerk who rudely treats you when your debit card refuses to scan. As her frustration grows to anger, the others in line are affected. Now it is up to each individual. How will you react?
If you smile and shrug your shoulders, the tension will begin to ease. However, if you impatiently look at your watch and sigh, the frustration will grow. This may very well have an impact on the rest of the day – for each person within reach.
Righting a Wrong
Have you ever been the target of an unkind act? Certainly, many of us have encountered the agitated driver who passes on the right lane just as the road narrows. Our response will not only affect our passengers. It will affect other motorists who are close enough in traffic to observe. Does a derogatory name slip past your lips – perhaps another name for ‘donkey’? Do you irritably blow your horn? Now what?
In this case, there are still options to reconcile a hasty, negative reaction. First, take a deep breath. Then explain to any passengers in the car that your reaction may have been affected by your late night entertainment. You see, that particular word is a trademark response from fictional Atlanta lawyer, Matlock , when he encounters a scoundrel in one of his cases. Let them know that you spoke out of turn and regret it. Then set your cruise control and become a model motorist. Taking a higher road and expressing regret can still offer a lesson to others.
No Man is an Island
When it comes to the effect we human creatures have on one another, the need we have for each other is also worthy of note. We often find our cues from the actions of others. Just as our actions and reactions affect those around us, so too are we affected.
Those of us who are prone to a darker frame of mind, from time to time, would do well to surround ourselves with those of a more positive view. An example in my life is my husband. While I tend to stew and analyze, he is gifted with a more sunny disposition. His natural charm and upbeat attitude can soften my more stoic side.
Fellow church members can also be a real gift. Linger after Mass and get to know those around you. Observe the Body of Christ and take in their various characteristics. Do you see someone who is alone? Speak to them. Is there a harried mother in the mix? Offer your assistance or simply give a heartfelt compliment about the blessing her brood is. Just a few words can completely turn around an outlook for the day.
Focus on Effect, Affect the World
So what can we take away from this little trip through the world of attitude? We are not alone and even our attitude can set a standard. We affect others and they affect us. God gave us a community for a reason. Not only do we set the tone for those around us, we can even lead each other toward Heaven!
“It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves but for others. When we do this we will be able first of all to face and accept our own limitations. As long as we secretly adore ourselves, our own deficiencies will remain to torture us with an apparent defilement. But if we live for others, we will gradually discover that no expects us to be ‘as gods’. We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another.” Thomas Merton,
What have you observed in your interaction with others? How have these thoughts affected you?