In 1960 a research meteorologist named Edward Lorenz, working on a primitive computer, created a mathematical model of weather and climate conditions; he was hoping to find precise, predictable patterns that would make accurate long- range forecasting possible. One day, to save time, he entered into the computer a rounded off number (.506) instead of the more complete number (.506127), assuming that a difference of less than 1 one-thousandth was of no importance. In fact, it had a major effect: the difference in the weather simulation was equivalent to a hurricane either occurring, or not occurring. Lorenz realized that the slightest change in conditions—in this particular case, equivalent merely to the puff of wind caused by the flapping of a butterfly’s wings—could bring about a set of completely unforeseen circumstances. (In other words, the famous poem that begins “For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost,” and ends with the loss of a kingdom, pointed out something later scientifically verified.) Lorenz’s discovery has come to be known as “The Butterfly Effect.”
I believe a “Butterfly Effect” can be said to exist in terms of our spiritual lives and our relationships with other people. The slightest good deed or friendly gesture on our part (or the withholding of such an act) can end up having a major impact on someone else’s life—in ways we would never have imagined. I’ve heard of cases in which a kind word by a priest, nun, or Catholic layperson gave a struggling, desperate man or woman new hope and turned out to make a great difference, and also of cases where an unkind word alienated someone from the Church for life—all without the speaker realizing it. We have so many opportunities to do good and to help others—not primarily in dramatic situations, but in the simple events and encounters of everyday life. St. Therese of Lisieux realized that spiritual greatness can be achieved by doing simple things with great love, and this is a lesson for all of us to learn and practice.
Butterflies are beautiful creatures, but it’s even more beautiful when we apply “The Butterfly Effect” to our everyday lives in a loving and generous way.