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Butterfly Effect

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By Paul Kowalewski

Butterfly Effect


Butterfly Effect

by Paul Kowalewski

The other day a disgruntled employee threw gasoline on a computer that controls air traffic at O’hare International Airport in Chicago – that one destructive act literally affected the entire world.

In Chicago alone, 1000 flights were almost instantly canceled; and since this airport is such a central hub, millions of other people were affected not just in this country but all over the world – flights delayed, rerouted, often canceled.

I’ve been thinking about that incident at the Chicago airport – thousands of angry and anxious passengers waiting in terminals around the globe, travel plans totally frustrated, ill at ease and unsure of what to do.

I also think about how all those millions of people might have spent the remainder of their day – perhaps expressing their pent-up frustration by lashing out in anger against spouses, families and co-workers, or maybe impatience with a waiter in the restaurant or the cashier in a shop.

All this negative energy building up and flowing into almost every corner of the world because one disgruntled employee decided he wanted to punish his supervisor by throwing gasoline on a computer.

The physicists and mathematicians of our day help me understand something of what may have been going on with that incident at an airport in Chicago. The scientists who developed “Chaos theory” propose what they call a “butterfly effect” to explain how “stuff happens” in the world, suggesting that since everything and everyone is so dynamically interconnected in one complex web of relationships, a “very small change in one part of a system can result in large differences in later states of the system.”

The “small changes” contributing to very “large changes” is called a “Butterfly Effect,” because it is a scientific fact that the flapping of a single butterfly’s wings generates energy that literally affects the weather pattern of the entire planet. So, for example, a butterfly’s flapping wings in the mountains of Tibet will ultimately contribute to a vast hurricane that will strike the Atlantic coastline sometime in the future.

A few days ago, a disturbed man poured gasoline on a computer in Chicago. That one act was “flapping wings” that generated some very nasty energy leading to a storm of negativity that swept over the entire planet.

I think of all the small and seemingly insignificant nasty little things I might do in a given day – angrily honking my horn at the driver who cut me off, a harsh word to my wife because I’m tired or in a bad mood, a contentious phone conversation with the repairman who said he fixed my refrigerator but didn’t. Because we are all so dynamically woven together, none of these seemingly insignificant actions are ever isolated – every time I do any one of these things I am indeed “flapping wings” that generate energy leading to a storm.

Of course there is a flip side to all this.

Seemingly small and insignificant acts of everyday kindness, compassion and generosity also have a “Butterfly Effect.” Acts of kindness also exponentially grow. The flapping of the wings of my everyday life can contribute to a violent storm, but they can also help create an ocean of peace.

The Buddha taught:


As from a large heap of flowers many garlands and wreaths are made

so by one mortal in this life there is much good work that can be done.


I want the single flower of my life to be woven into a beautiful wreath.


Please visit Paul’s blog The Desert Retreat House for more articles, and check out his book on Amazon:


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