Metanoia: Impact(ed)


Image Description: Four people are standing together side by side. Each is wearing a number: 8-0-0-0. They’re all lifting their hands, and curving them to make a rounded circle. Public Domain image.

This week, I’m pondering the word metanoia, the ancient Greek word often translated as ‘repent.’ Among other things, it means a turn, an expansion of the mind, an opening of new possibilities.

Yesterday, I had another lovely conversation over coffee (connection changes things; so does coffee!). This conversation was with a very wise young adult who is in her last semester of undergrad.

We were talking about how people these days are living quite frequently with big questions and fears of societal upheaval, and that young adults often feel the brunt of these questions and fears very closely and particularly. Questions swirl within people about the climate crisis (in the midst of this, some young adults are questioning whether or not to have children) our economic system, and the future of democracy.

These questions and fears can begin to feel very casual in their frequency, so much so, that we forget how much stress they are adding to our lives. I like to call this experience Casual Existential Threat Thinking.

And when we think of metanoia,
How do we make a turn?
How do we expand our thinking?
How do we cultivate new possibilities?

There are many answers to these questions, of course, but I’ll offer something from our conversation yesterday.

In my time with my friend, I shared a statistic that I find myself thinking about every once and a while. I’ve written about it here before, and I find it to be hopeful.

On average, each person on the planet consistently impacts 8,000 people every day.

This number comes from a book entitled, Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks and How they Shape Our Lives. The authors, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, explore the power of connection and social embeddedness. As they did sociological research, they discovered that people consistently impact and are impacted by their friend’s-friend’s-friends. Often this is invisible to us, but these three circles of contact have influence for our wellness, relationships, and decisions.

So how did they come up with the number 8,000?

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.

And moving beyond the individual, this indicates that small groups of people can have an enormous positive impact on larger society.

Metanoia — transformation — has big impact even if it starts small.

Renee Roederer


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