We usually have an idea of some effects of some of our actions, mostly on those in our daily life. But we rarely know the ripple effects, including the indirect ones on people we have never met. To be honest, I probably don’t know most of the effects on people in my daily life.
Just as anything I do seem to have infinite causes, anything I do have infinite effects. And I am only aware of a tiny fraction of both.
I occasionally hear from people who changed something in their life because of something I said or did, and it is always touching to me. Sometimes, it is small. And sometimes, it is something bigger. (I recently met someone, by chance, who I had talked with briefly a few years back and had made a major life decision based on it, completely unexpectedly from my side.)
We never know the effects of what we do, which is why it is so important to engage in life even with small contributions. Maybe just a friendly interaction, or a sharing of information or something that has worked in our own life.
As Gandhi said, whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.
Of course, we never know the effects of what we do, and can never control it. Something well meaning can have undesirable effects, in a conventional view, and something that comes from reactivity and confusion may turn out to be of great benefit.
If that was the whole story, it wouldn’t matter what we did.
But even from a conventional view, it matters. Well intentioned actions are certainly more likely to benefit than those which are not.
And looking a little deeper, we see that the way we relate to the wider world reflects how we relate to ourselves. When my heart is open and my life engaged, it is so towards others and myself. Whatever the effects of my actions on the wider world, these actions benefit and nurture me in that – very important – way.
So I can realize that I will never know most of the effects of my actions. That each action has infinite causes, so there is nothing personal there in that sense. That acting with an open heart is more likely to benefit others in a conventional way. That no matter what the effects, I don’t know what the outcome really is, even in a conventional way. (As the Chinese story of the man and the horse illustrates.) That acting from an open heart benefits myself in an immediate way. And that I can always learn from my experiences and feedback from the world on my actions.
It all goes together, and I can explore each one more in depth, making it more alive for me.