Every morning on my way into work, I cross the Cardiff Bridge just across from the Principality Stadium to get to the office. Most mornings, I have my head down against a cold wind or I am lost in my thoughts about the day ahead, but recently I have been observing the local wildlife that enjoys the River Taff running beneath the old bridge.
Bear with me on this…
One day, I noticed that the river was very quiet. The weather was still for once and there was a serene calm around the area. As I cross the bridge, my eye was caught by a solitary duck swimming from under the bridge, right up the center of the river. And it made me stop.
The duck was making its way along his journey, oblivious to me as I watched. Its line of travel was straight and wherever it was going, it seemed in no hurry. But what really caught my attention was not the duck itself but the ripple it left behind in the water. I could see the straight line it had followed but behind it was a wave that was bigger than the duck itself. And the further back I looked, the larger the wave had grown.
This was when I had an epiphany, a moment of clarity. In that instant, I wanted to be the duck!
Now, before someone makes a terrible joke about me sounding “quackers” (there, I did it for you, happy now?) let me clarify my thought.
I was looking back on my life and thinking about the impact I have on others around me. In the way I treated my family, in the way I worked with others, in the manner in which I present myself to strangers, in all walks of my life. I realised that my actions, behaviours and attitudes have had a remarkable influence on the lives of others. That is not meant to sound vain or arrogant, as though I have blazed a glorious trail for all mankind.
But my life has had countless tiny ripples over time.
I was recently giving a talk about mental health where I opened up about my own depression and my suicide attempts. After the talk, I was approached by a lovely man who thanked me for my words and said how brave he thought I was to talk about what I had gone through. He then told me that his son had taken his own life. I realised that my talk could have had a very personal resonance with that gentleman but thankfully, the way I had delivered it had been enough to give him cause to be thankful to me for my efforts to raise awareness about the issue. It made me think about how the other people in the audience that day would have felt listening to my speech for only half an hour.
I continued to watch this oblivious little duck continuing on his way and I noticed a few other birds around the river.
On the near edge of the river, two beautiful swans had emerged from underneath the bridge but they were not moving in a straight line like the duck. In fact, they seemed to be just floating around, minding their own business, paying no attention to anyone else. One of them flapped its wings, sending a spray of water that caused further ripples in their immediate area.
Above the river, on the boardwalk that ran along the bank of the river for us average humans to walk in peace, a line of seagulls and smaller birds were dotted. They were high above the river, safe and dry so there was no chance of them making any splashes that might disrupt my little friend below. They made more noise than the other birds (and judging by the marks on the floor beneath them, a lot more mess).
Then from underneath the bridge, three more ducks (one just a duckling) emerged and seemed to be following a similar trajectory to my hero of this story. That duck was already quite a way ahead but I noticed how those ripples it had created were still prominent on the surface of the water. The three ducks suddenly reached the edge of those ripples and the momentum that first duck had created hit them too. They seemed to be effectively following the trail their friend had left behind.
I will admit that I have not always been aware of how much of what we do can have an influence of the people that follow us. I have young nephew and nieces, great kids who I know can be easily influenced by listening and observing what I do and how I do it. When I first met my wife, I was overly conscious about what she might think about me and if her first impressions of me would influence the future course of our relationship. Children especially can be very influenced by what we do but it is not exclusive to the young.
On many occasions in my past, anxiety and depression have caused me to change my course by acting and behaving in ways that are not me, ways that I think others expect me to act and behave. I was too worried about what people thought of me and therefore my path was often diverted down the wrong direction. My biggest regrets are about how people have been influenced by my behaviours when they were not indicative of the “real” me.
So I have resolved to look again at how I live my life. I don’t want to be the swan, splashing around and making waves just because I can (or worse, for the sole purpose of influencing others). I don’t want to be the seagull, staying out of it all and avoiding any sort of direct interaction (or worse, only making useless noise from afar as more of a distraction than an influence). I certainly don’t want to be any bird that follows in the wake of another, letting the ripples redirect me down a path I do not want to go.
I am going to be that first duck, driving a straight path to where I want to go but aware of how I influence others in getting there. I won’t make waves but I will make progress. If my actions, behaviours and attitudes can have a positive influence on others too, that will make the journey even more satisfying but I will endeavour to leave a path that others are able to follow if they choose to do so.
My point in sharing this epiphany is to make you think about your own path in life. Have you considered how your influence others as you strive to achieve your goals in life? Your family, your friends, your co-workers, your loved ones…how will they respond to your actions, behaviours and attitudes? Can you change the way you do things to have a more positive influence on them (one that can offer guidance without asserting your choices too heavily)? Remember even the tiniest ripples you make can have a huge impact on someone.
The next time you are passing a bridge and spot a duck swimming along a river, stop a moment to think about yourself and whether you too can be more like the duck.