“No man is an island,” wrote John Donne in 1624. His poem by the same name suggests that the things that each of us do affect others around us. We are all part of the community of humankind and what I do has an effect on the whole. I thought of this the other day as I went for a run. I was continuing to train for a competition that, because of life circumstances, I could no longer fit into my schedule. One part of my brain said, “Why should I run today? There is no race in your near future.” Yet another part of my brain reminded me that I run not just for myself. I run to stay healthy so that I might be around for more time to take care of the needs of my wife and family. I run to inspire others to stay fit and healthy. I even run to affect the overall fitness level of my country. When statistics are run on how many people are physically active in Canada, I want to be one of the people that brings up the national average.
The same is true of other aspects of our lives. The decisions I make and the good or evil I choose to do affects others. There are extreme examples. If I choose to drink alcohol and drive there is a good chance that I might seriously injure or kill someone with my car. But there are less extreme examples as well. If I consider it my right to pursue my own selfish direction in life and not work at my relationship with my wife it affects my wife, my children, my friendships, and society as a whole. Every person who walks away from marriage and divorces their spouse adds to the statistics of divorce and makes it that much easier for others to believe that it is normal, natural, and okay. So each of us can recognize that we have an effect on the whole of our society.
The good that we can do also inspires others. When a person takes a week or two of their holidays to go to Haiti or Cuba or Uganda to help with a water project, serve the poor, or build a school, others are inspired to do the same. When we volunteer on a local school committee, community association, strata board, or flood relief effort, we challenge others to consider their part in serving others. Together we make a difference.
How do I want my life to be remembered by those who follow? What am I doing right now that is an inspiration or a distraction to others? We are all connected. No man or woman is an island.
‘No Man is an Island’
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.1
1 MEDITATION XVII; Devotions upon Emergent Occasions; John Donne; http://web.cs.dal.ca/~johnston/poetry/island.html