Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Unknowable influence 

Lois has been blogging recently about her reactions to seeing Les Miserables, reminding me of something that came to mind when I saw the show several years ago.

At the time one tends to get caught up in the big, dramatic, emotional moments - and there are certainly plenty of those in the show. But there's more to the story than that. Reflecting afterwards it struck me how the entire sequence of Jean Valjean's critical involvement in the lives of the key characters derives from one simple act of compassion.

Early in the story, Valjean, an ex-convict, is given shelter by a Bishop but can't stop himself stealing some silver from the Bishop's house. He is caught by the police but the Bishop defends him, saying he gave Valjean the silver; moreover he gives him two candlesticks as well saying "Here, you forgot these".

Valjean vows to change from this point on. The paths of their lives had run separately, touched for this one brief moment and then diverged, never to cross again. From the bishop's perspective, it was just an isolated incident; from Valjean's, the course of his life branched onto an entirely new track as a result of this encounter, a path he would not otherwise have taken. Yet the bishop remains entirely unaware of the impact he will have on so many lives through this one simple act of compassion.

I often wonder about the unknown impact our daily acts have on each other. Even though the effect of our responses may not be as far-reaching as the Bishops's, every interaction we have with another has some effect, and the choice is ours whether we respond with animosity, selfishness, compassion or just plain indifference. At the least we have the capacity to brighten someone's day, and who knows - maybe a simple act of kindness might one day be the catalyst that influences another at a turning point in their life, unknown to ourselves and even to the other.

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