Do you ever find yourself wondering, “These things I’m doing. . . Do they really matter? Do they make any difference?”
The answer is a resounding yes.
On average, each person on the planet consistently affects 8,000 people every day.
I learned this from a tremendous book. It’s called, Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks and How they Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. In the book, Christakis and Fowler conduct intriguing scientific research on social networks to discover how they connect us and affect us. I find their conclusion to be stunning: Daily, our actions, thoughts, and emotions impact others. That’s where this number comes from: On average, we affect approximately 8,000 people every day.
How did they calculate this number?
Christakis and Fowler have discovered that on average, each person knows twenty people well enough to invite them to a dinner party. If those friends then know twenty people to the same degree, and then those friends know twenty people to the same degree, we are talking about 20 x 20 x 20 = 8,000 people.
We are relationally connected and deeply embedded in these relationships. Their research revealed that we affect and are affected by our friends’ friends’ friends in social and emotional contagions. Even if we don’t directly know these people three degrees away, we are consistently impacting each other every single day of our lives. That’s astonishing.
Christakis and Fowler discuss the ways that our actions, thoughts, and emotions impact others. When we feel joy, calm, stress, or anxiety, we often pass our emotions to one another in contagion. Sometimes, this happens as quickly and simply as seeing someone’s facial expression. The mirror neurons in our brains fire to make a similar facial expression, and then we feel a similar emotion too. This can happen with fear. It can also happen with a smile. These are truly contagious.
So, if we have the ability to impact a social network as large as 8,000 people pretty unconsciously, what is possible if we consider this consciously? How can we positively affect our social network with acts of compassion, advocacy, and solidarity?
How can we positively affect our social network through our own self-care and personal, spiritual practices? These enrich us, but they can also add wellbeing to the whole. We are deeply connected to others. We can truly have an impact upon 8,000 people.
What happens when we show up in person to solidarity events and see the humanity of one another? What emotional contagion of hope is unleashed when we see large-scale solidarity events on Facebook live?
All of these things launch social contagions of connectedness and continued action.
If you doubt your ability to affect things, please know that these matter. Everything you’re doing definitely matters.