Filling the Bathtub One Drop at a Time: Small Choices Matter

I came upon this quote by Gil Fronsdal some time ago and tucked it away in a list of quotes I keep:

“Just as drops of water will eventually fill a bathtub, so the accumulation of small choices shapes who we are.”

It’s easy to dismiss the power of small choices. In the scheme of things, what difference does it make if you use a disposable bag at the supermarket or buy a cup of non-organic, non-fair trade, non-shade grown coffee in a Styrofoam cup, or eat a hamburger or chicken leg, or buy a new cell phone? No number of compact fluorescent light bulbs is going to save the world, and with all the problems we face, it’s easy to decide that our every day choices don’t much matter.

And really, if all a conscientious, compassionate person were to do was focus on small everyday choices to ensure they were as MOGO (most good) as possible, the good that would come from this might well pale in comparison to the work of an inventor who creates a solution to an entrenched systemic problem, or an activist who changes a system, or a lawmaker who bans a type of cruelty, even if that inventor or activist or lawmaker made a host of less-than-MOGO small choices each and every day.

Which is why I’m always advocating a both-and approach to changemaking: model your message by making conscious and caring personal choices AND work for systemic change. But Fronsdal's quote struck me as a new lens with which to view the power of our every day choices. The accumulation of our small choices, how we treat others each and every day (others being not simply those with whom we interact personally, but also those people and animals whose lives we affect through our daily food, clothing, and product choices) adds up. These are the choices that largely define who we become over a lifetime. They matter.

So let’s try to remember each drop of water we are adding to the bathtub that comprises our life and choose it with respect and kindness.

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

Image courtesy of missmoney via Creative Commons.

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