Now Reading
“Small” Sphere of Influence – A Major Avenue for Resilience

“Small” Sphere of Influence – A Major Avenue for Resilience

Recently, I found myself reading a CNN article titled, “Critical Atlantic Ocean current system is showing early signs of collapse, prompting warning from scientists.” This piece detailed how scientists have long been concerned regarding how climate change is warming ocean water, disturbing the balance of heat and salt, and will disrupt the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). According to the article, these AMOC currents carry heat and nutrients to different areas of the globe and are vital to regulating the climate of the Northern Hemisphere. Basically, if early collapse of AMOC is not halted, the consequences for our planet could be catastrophic.

“Great,” I thought in despair, as I put on my sneakers and coat to go out for a walk. More overwhelming news in a time of uncontrolled change, escalating threats to our planet, and ongoing assaults on human rights. As I walked past a field, I saw a rusty Coke can on the side of the road. “What a shame,” I thought as I passed by the can, still plagued by the news about harm to Mother Earth. A few steps down the road, I decided to double back, picked up the rusty can, and threw it in the trash. I picked up several more cans and bottles that were strewn along the road and threw them out as well. Why? Would picking up a few cans and bottles change the AMOC currents and protect our planet from collapse?

I believe what I stumbled upon with the seemingly small action of picking up the Coke can was an avenue to resilience.  According to the American Psychological Association, “resilience” is defined as “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.”  A wealth of research has focused on defining inherent qualities of resilience from the psychological, neurological, and sociological perspectives. Furthermore, pediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg defined the 7 C’s of resilience as competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control, in his book Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings, which was co-authored by Martha Jablow and which has been endorsed by the American Pediatric Association. Each of us lives in both the natural world and a man-made society where we have daily opportunities to engage with people, institutions, and nature and to take micro-actions in alignment with one of the C’s – contribution.  These actions may seem as a “small sphere of influence”; however, they have major impact for others and us to boost resilience.

As a medical oncologist who specializes in cancer genetics, I often see patients with advanced cancers or young individuals with a cancer diagnosis in my clinic. While I have not discovered the cure for cancer, I have dedicated my career to connecting one-on-one with my patients to offer state-of-the-art genetic testing and medical management. Just as importantly, I find that listening to each patient’s experience, offering comfort and support, or sharing a laugh goes a long way to brightening their day.  Did I cure cancer? No. But I know I made a positive contribution in another person’s life. Furthermore, I have often walked away from individual patient stories inspired by ideas on how to advance genetic testing or how to address the needs of patients with younger onset of cancer – all of which led to now co-leading a new translational program at my institution focused on early onset cancers. Rather than sinking in a sea of despair at the mercy of shifting currents, I am buoyed up by resilience born out of one-on-one contribution and encouragement to my patients.

It is clearly recognized that large efforts and programs are needed to make major changes in this world, whether for social justice, climate change, or medical advances. Macrolevel work is essential to bring teams together, collaborate across disciplines and sectors of society, and enact policy that ensures the safety of humans and this planet. The scientists monitoring the AMOC currents are working in large teams and bringing systems together to slow down or reverse this concerning trend.  I advocate that while we are moving forward at the macrolevel, let’s not underestimate the seemingly microlevel contributions that often are lifegiving, life-sustaining, and a source for resilience out of which many groundbreaking ideas have come forth. I encourage everyone to seek out the micro-moments in their day to say hello to a neighbor, spend one extra minute talking to your grocer, share a laugh with a co-worker, or pick up some bottles from the side of the road while you let the sun warm your face.  It can be incredibly uplifting and surprising what world-changing ideas might come next – one “small” sphere of influence at a time.

A few days later, I walked past the same field on my morning walk. In the spot where the rusty Coke can had been was a group of birds pecking at the dirt. Three deer wandered nearby and perked up as I walked past. I felt more at peace knowing that I had beautified one small part of the field and made it safe for the birds and deer. Did I change the pattern of AMOC currents? No. Did I help Mother Earth? Yes. Was I an influencer? You decide.

© 2022 VISIBLE Magazine. All Rights Reserved. Branding by Studio Foray.