Monday, May 16, 2005

Islands in the Stream?

A recent post by my friend Khodadad has got me to thinking. Well, actually, it reminded me of thoughts that I have had from time to time over the years. Have you ever felt that your life is insignificant, that your existence just doesn't count for much? I think that many people have such thoughts occasionally, I certainly have. A long time ago, my mother's mother tried to teach me a lesson. At the time, it didn't seem very significant. However, it resonates within me now. Her lesson was basically that, "No Man Is An Island". This is an old saying that originates from a work by the 16th century poet John Donne (see excerpt below). Apparently, it was a favorite saying of my grandmother's mother. The saying teaches the moral lesson that every person is interconnected and interdependent with other people. None of us can really live a fulfilling existence without other people. Indeed, it would be impossible for most of us to survive in our modern world without the help of other people. Certainly, there are some people, here and there, but mostly in low tech parts of the world, who retain the knowledge of how to "live off the land". But, how many people are cut out to be Mountain Men or Women who live a lonely, hermit-like existence? I am certainly not cut from that sort of cloth. I need contact with other people to feel healthy and happy.

Lets go back to the old saying for a moment, "No Man Is An Island". I have thought a lot about the concept of human beings as islands over the years. I think that, in some ways, the saying is not entirely correct. We are, to a certain extent islands, separate, distinct, and disconnected from other people. We have our own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, not all of which are shared with other people. However, every person that lives within communication range of other people does exert some degree of influence upon those others.

I like to use visual imagery to do my thinking. So, for the purpose of this discussion, I would like to imagine all human beings as standing in one huge continuous shallow pond. The distances between the people in the pond are variable, and some groups are so far from other groups that interaction with other groups is essentially impossible. However, this sort of thing is quite uncommon, as there are very few groups of undiscovered humans living apart in some deep and uncharted jungle. Anyway, I digress. Lets focus in on one person in the vast pond. Lets imagine that instead of this pond person speaking to another, he bobs up and down in the water. This action sends out ripples that impact and reflect off other pond people who are nearby. These reflected ripples then impact off more pond people, reflecting until they eventually subside out of existence. Often the ripples that one pond person creates by bobbing will have little effect on the other pond people. (This might be analogous to real human beings engaging in light conversation about the weather.) However, sometimes the ripples from one pond person will resonate with another pond person in a certain way that causes her to begin bobbing in response, thus sending out additional ripples that have a farther reach that the original ripples and which impact off additional pond people. (This might be likened to a person communicating a new and beneficial idea to one or more other people.) Much less frequently, a pond person might bob so energetically that he sets many other pond people bobbing in a resonant pattern that reinforces and multiplies the amplitude of the ripples to the point that they become great waves that wash over and submerge large numbers of pond people, some of whom are so overwhelmed that they never resurface. (An analogous human event might be a war.)

So, why am I spending time talking about pond people? I am trying to make the point that every person has some power to influence other people. We are all powerful in that we can positively or negatively influence the course of other people's lives. Sometimes a kind word or action can change another person's day, and that person may, in turn, perform a kindness for one or more additional people. The opposite could also be true. A negative word or action could have adverse consequences for the recipient, who may pass that negativity along to others. Have you ever seen the movie "Pay It Forward"? For the most part, I thought it was a great movie (except for the ending when the kid died - that really ruined my day!). The basis of the movie was for one person to do good deeds for others and instead of asking for a reward, he or she would ask the recipient of the good deed to do a good deed for someone else. If enough people "paid it forward", the world could be changed for the better. Well, it is a great idea in theory, but in practice, maybe not, given the proclivities of human nature. However, I like the concept. I try to do little good things every day. I give encouragement to friends. I say thank you to people I am doing business with. I wait and allow someone to merge ahead of me into a traffic jammed street. If someone drops something without knowing, I pick it up and hand it to them. There are so many ways that a person can be helpful to others and maybe change other people's lives for the better. So, the next time that you think that your life is of no consequence, think again. Sometimes little things do mean a lot, and none of us are islands unto ourselves!

Sculpture "No Man Is An Island" by Clark B. Fitzgerald, given to the First Congregational Church of Melrose, Massachusetts in loving memory of Herbert and Sarah Tourtillott (my greatgrandparents!) by their children.

Painting by James Becker highlighting the lower right portion of the sculpture.

"Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Excerpt from: Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII by John Donne


Blogger Ameer H. said...

I also sometimes think that I'm isolated from others. But I feel much much better when ever I spend time with my friends. I used to be a very independent person, I never needed to contact my frinds and I prefered to spend my free time alone, but all that has changed recently, now I really look for new friends everyday and feel like I need to talk with others more often. We can/will influance others life all the time, and we allow others to influance ours. It's very interesting, because I have been thinking about this topic for a few months now. It's been a few months that I have changed because I realized that I can't continue entirely on my own anymore, I always thought I don't need anyone, and of course I was worng! Very nice post. :)

5/16/2005 10:47 PM  
Blogger David said...

Thanks Ameer, I'm glad the post was meaningful to you. :) Life really is much more enjoyable when you have friends to share it with!

5/17/2005 2:00 AM  
Blogger maas said...

hi david nice post..
and i posted in my blog some photos of mosul you can see them


5/17/2005 1:20 PM  
Blogger Khodadad said...

Thanks for the post David! It was enlightening and also encouraging. Despite the fact that you refered to my post, your post was much deeper and thought provoking than my few lines of frustration.

There is a poem in Persian that is often repeated, and it has the basic meaning of "No man is an Island":

"Human beings are part of each other's bodies
since in creation they are all from the same creed
if the times bring pain to an organ
the rest of the body cannot stay indifferent"

(excuse my fast, unpoetic translation! I doubt Sa'adi could have done it better in English!:P)

5/17/2005 3:29 PM  
Anonymous manuela said...

That's a nice translation, Khodadad. I also liked (and thought it was funny) what you said about animals being calmer than humans. Although I know that every so often animals are wild and competitive, they do have that quality of just "being," that I think you referred to in your comment.
David, very nice and heartwarming post. Thanks for sharing it. I like the pictures, too :)

5/17/2005 9:13 PM  
Anonymous manuela said...

It would be a lot more to say, but... too much, I'm afraid :) Let's just say that it got me thinking :) (which is something, I would say :)

5/17/2005 9:17 PM  
Blogger David said...

Hello Maas, I am glad you liked the post and I am also glad to have you visit again, please continue. :) I saw your pictures of Mosul and left you a comment.

Khodadad, you are welcome! Well, I don't know if my post was deeper, but your post was definitely like a forceful wave that really got me bobbing! :) Without your post to get my mind in gear, my post would not exist. I am glad you feel encouraged, so do I. It would seem that our synergy has changed us both for the better, and maybe a few others, as well. :) Thank you for translating the Persian poem. I wonder how many other cultures have also recognized this same basic truth?

Manuela, I'm glad you liked the pictures! They are very meaningful to me, as the sculpture was created to honor the memory of my greatgrandparents. If you have been thinking a lot, but you feel it is too much to say in a comment, maybe you should start your own blog. :)

5/18/2005 1:05 AM  
Blogger Jamak said...

I really like the sculpture, simple yet so full of meaning. Sounds like you've been listening to a bit of Dolly Parton. A fan?

5/18/2005 9:57 PM  
Blogger David said...

Jamak, the sculpture is like life, the simplest things can sometimes mean the most! I'm glad you like it. :) Regarding Dolly Parton, I have been to Dollywood (her amusement park - not very amusing, actually), but I have never been a fan of her music. What gave you that notion?

5/19/2005 1:04 AM  
Blogger Sima said...

Hi David,
This is a nice post. I also liked "Pay it Forward" and like you, I was saddened by it.

Thanks for your email and your visit to my Persian blog. It was a nice surprise :). Your "good luck" wish was certainly an act of kindness and a nice ripple in the pond. I have my Oral exams in 9 days and a talk this Monday. That was the reason someone had wished me luck (and amazingly, you picked up on that without knowing Farsi!). I was touched that you visited my Farsi blog to check in with me. Very sweet of you :).
Take good care and stay kind, David.

5/19/2005 1:51 AM  
Blogger Jamak said...

The title of your post is a song by her and Kenny Rogers as I recall.

5/19/2005 6:11 AM  
Blogger David said...

Hi Sima, It is very nice to hear from you! :) I know that you have been very busy preparing for your Oral Exams and I appreciate your taking some time out to visit my blog. I think that I will visit your Farsi blog some more and see if I can guess what you are talking about again. :) I hope that your Talk goes very well on Monday!

Jamak joon, I guess I win the dunderhead award of the week! :) I knew that my title came from some song, but I couldn't remember who the artists were. Then when you mentioned Dolly, I just drew a complete blank. Well, I guess that I like at least one of her songs, afterall!

5/19/2005 11:21 PM  
Blogger Jamak said...

You must've been fascinated by her assets at some point in your younger years:)

5/21/2005 6:51 AM  
Blogger maas said...

ho david how are you? i posted a puzzl in my blog i hope you can answer it

5/21/2005 3:10 PM  
Blogger David said...

Actually Jamak, I was never really all that impressed with Dolly's "Large Tracts of Land". :)

Maas, I like puzzles! I will certainly try to solve yours. :)

5/22/2005 1:13 AM  
Anonymous koozeh said...

The sculpture is BEAUTIFUL! I love it. I agree with everything you wrote David. It is true. People are interconnected. Once somebody told me that if a person doesn't interact with at least some number of people (I think 50), he will have depression or something. Of course by interaction she didn't mean anything profound, just meeting in the street counts for that purpose.

5/24/2005 8:49 AM  
Blogger David said...

Koozeh, I am glad that you like the sculpture! :) Should a person interact with 50 people per day? That would make for a very busy person! :) Perhaps you mean a person should have at least 50 friends and acquaintences. I have seldom known that many people at any given time. Maybe I need to meet more people!

5/24/2005 4:26 PM  
Blogger maas said...

hi david.. i post the answer and another puzzle


6/01/2005 3:53 PM  
Blogger Khodadad said...

David... where are you? we need a new post!:P

6/05/2005 2:22 PM  
Blogger David said...

Hi Khodadad,
Well, I haven't exactly disappeared, afterall, I did visit your blog earlier today. :) Ok, I'll try to post something new real soon!

6/06/2005 1:02 AM  
Anonymous Manuela said...

Khodadad is funny :) But he's right. (Is he?... :)

6/06/2005 2:39 AM  

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