Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Butterfly Effect

In 1963, Edward Lorenz to a hypothesis to the New York Academy of Science.  His theory stated that a butterfly could flap its wings and set molecules of air in motion, moving other molecules of air, and then other molecules of air, eventually capable of starting a hurricane on the other side of the world.

None of the other scientists took it seriously, leading to a term called "The Butterfly Effect" that was ridiculed and demoted to science fiction instead of science.

While people were intrigued by the concept, they largely thought it was preposterous.

And then it happened, Nearly 30 years later, physics professors declared the butterfly effect accurate, changing it to the Law of Sensitive Dependence Upon Initial Conditions.

So why, is a high school principal fascinated by The Butterfly Effect?  A couple of summers ago a dear friend of mine recommended an Andy Andrews book to me entitled The Traveler's Gift.  It is still one of my all-time favorite readings.

As I often do, I started reading other books by the author, and read Andrews' book The Butterfly Effect, How Your Life Matters.

I couldn't put this short narrative down and devoured it in one sitting. Andy Andrews does an exceptional job of relating The Butterfly Effect to our personal lives.

You see, Andy relates that science has shown that the butterfly effect of physics engages with the first movement of any form of matter, including people.

Imagine that, every move we make affects someone else.

Andy Andrews then gives a detailed account of Joshua Chamberlain, a former schoolteacher, in charge of the 20th Maine division at the Battle of Gettysburg.The 20th Maine was the end of the line for the Union Army.  His superior officer had ordered him to hold the line and to not retreat under any circumstance, for if the Rebels took Chamberlain and his men they would then flank the Union Army's position on Little Round Top, winning the higher ground and most certainly the battle.

Despite 5 assaults, Chamberlain and his men did not retreat, even though they were out of ammunition. How did they do it? Chamberlain gave a shocking order to fix bayonets and charge down the hill at the Confederates, surprising the weary enemy and forcing their surrender to men who had no ammo.

How?  By the actions of one person, Joshua Chamberlain.  That one man, as Andrews relates, had a profound effect not only on the battle but also on the United States as we know it today.

And that is why as a principal and as a person I am deeply moved by Andy Andrews book, for it is his subtitle that intrigues me the most.  The title is The Butterfly Effect, but the subtitle is How Your Life Matters.

How does our life matter? Andrews describes in astonishing fashion how much little known people from history have affected billions of lives.  Their names? Norman Borlaug, Henry Wallace, a slave named Moses.  Never heard of them? That's the point.  But their lives were remarkable in affecting billions of lives positively because of the lives they lived every day.

What better gift we can give our young people than the gift of sharing the Butterfly Effect?  Every chance we get we need to remind them of this scientific principle and its power to change the lives of millions.

Our students lives matter, and our lives matter, and do the lives of every human being.

How we can we give that gift to our students? That every decision they make, every step they take, every encounter they have with another human being, every action they take and every day that they live, they have the power to affect someone's life, and perhaps that effect will move someone else, and someone else, and so on, to affect someone today, tomorrow and perhaps for generations to come.

A school teacher named Joshua Chamberlain did it. Norman Borlaug did it, and so can our young people. Today. Right now--for positive actions should not be delayed or saved for later.

If a butterfly can, then I can do it, and so can you.

So flap your wings and start something remarkable. Today. Right now. Start the chain effect.


  1. loved this post! Each and every one of us is capable of inspiring greatness all around us.

    1. Thanks, Mrs. S. I agree that we can all take time to inspire!


  2. Thank you for the inspiration. I ordered the book, can't wait to read it and share with others too.

    1. Patricia,
      You will love the book-- it is one of my favorites and the historical info is amazing.

  3. I have never heard of the Butterfly Effect but your post makes me think it's something I need to know more about! Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Carol. It is a remarkable phenomenon to think about.



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