What is my Influence?
Every year we have an essential question that serves as a theme for the work we do together all year long. This year’s question has a difficult word in it: influence. It’s a pretty difficult word for the adults in our midst, so I can only imagine how tough it must be for our Kindergarteners and First Graders as well. It seems like a good idea to try to get a better understanding of this word influence and, at the same time, challenge ourselves to see its importance in our lives.
Let’s start with some definitions. Of course, a good place to start with definitions is the dictionary, so here’s what good old Mr. Webster has to say about our tough word: Influence (noun) . . . the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on the actions, behavior, and opinions of others.
We begin with an understanding that our influence is a powerful force not only in our lives, but in the lives of those around us. What if I told you that this force can take on two unexpectedly simple forms—forms that each and every one of us can exert each and every day here at Presbyterian School and in the larger world? From the youngest and smallest Kindergartener to the biggest and tallest eighth grader; from the first-year teacher to the veteran teacher; yes, even from the parent to the grandparent . . . all of us can be an influence through our willingness to listen as well as our desire to work hard.
First, let’s talk about listening . . .
Matthew 4:18-22 . . . Influence through Listening to God and Others: As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people." At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22 NIV)
My grandmother used to tell me there was a reason God gave us two ears and one mouth . . . we’re supposed to listen at least twice as much as we talk. Now, you talk to anybody who knows me, and they’ll tell you that this task is a challenge for me. I love to talk and do it all the time—even in my sleep, according to my wife. What would have happened, though, if the Disciples had been yakking away in their boats so loudly that they didn’t hear Christ’s quiet plea for them to join Him in His mission to “fish for people,” or, for our purposes, influence the world?
I think what’s really behind Christ’s question to these men to drop their nets and follow him is an invitation to influence more than just the fish in the sea . . . to become a part of the powerful force that He was about to unleash upon an unexpecting world . . . a powerful force, an influence that is still at work in that world today, more than 2000 years after he lived.
What’s the lesson? Well, all the Disciples had to do to become a part of this influence was to listen. How are we doing with this task today? Are you like me and having a tough time quieting yourselves so that the little whispers of your friends, your parents, your teachers, or even God can come through to have a powerful and forceful influence in your lives? Influence by and through listening . . .
Next, let’s talk about hard work.
Newton's Cradle . . . Influence through Hard Work
You may not realize it, but there’s a LOT of hard work going on in the five little balls in these illustrations and this description. If you keep reading the link, you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the contraption called "Newton’s Cradle," but in the interest of your time, here is a shorter summary from that link about the science—the physics—behind what it’s doing:
Newton's cradle, named after Sir Isaac Newton, is a device that demonstrates conservation of momentum and energy via a series of swinging spheres. When one ball on the end is lifted and released, the resulting force travels through the line and pushes the last ball upward, as it acquires most of the velocity, momentum, and energy from the first ball. The impact produces a shock wave that propagates through the intermediate balls. Intrigue is provided by starting more than one ball in motion.
Aside from being pretty amazing to watch, what’s going on in the Cradle is really important for our conversation about influence. You see, that little ball on the end has power and force, and it is influencing the ball on the very far end as it bumps into the ball next to it. In fact, the ball on the very end is getting ALL the power and force of the first ball . . . it has to . . . it’s a scientific law, as far as I (an old English teacher) can understand it. Pretty cool, huh? Now get this . . . if I were to take two balls and lift and release them, two balls on the opposite end would be influenced to move as well. Mind-boggling, I know . . .
What’s the lesson? We ought to be working just as hard as these little balls to transfer all our power and force into those around us. Notice that this power and force can be exerted individually or in pairs and groups. (Remember, it’s a scientific law.) Too often, though, the influence we are transferring isn’t positive or uplifting or, frankly, good . . . is it?
Here’s our challenge: What could happen if we worked really hard this year to transfer the best power and force that’s in us to act as an equally powerful and forceful influence on others? According to SCIENCE, this influence will produce a shock wave in the people around us and it will produce intrigue (in other words, people will want to know more about it) if you can get more folks involved . . . influence through hard work.
As it turns out, this year’s essential question and the challenge it implies is actually deceptively simple: find ways to influence others by listening and by working hard. I will be interested to see how all of us answer this question . . . and meet this challenge this year.
I'm excited to take on the challenge and empower others to do the same! I hope that I can emit energy to encourage those around me. I think your Grandmother was on to something with her thoughts!
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