The decisions I make and the actions I take will obviously have an impact on me. But these same choices will also have an impact on others. Sometimes this impact is immediately visible. But other times it may be indirect, affecting people I’ll never see.

Consider the recent COVID-19 outbreak. At first, I had little concern about the risk it posed to my own health. But after learning more about it, I began to see how even if I didn’t get sick, I could still be an unintentional carrier for the virus. If I happen to come in contact with it, I could unknowingly pass it on to someone else. And that person could unknowingly do the same to another. And eventually, I could end up being a link in a chain of events that dramatically affect someone else’s health, even though I didn’t even mean to contribute to the process. When I began to understand this aspect of it, I began seeing how “social distancing” wasn’t just about not getting the virus myself, but rather making sure I wasn’t unintentionally spreading it on to others.

The spread of the virus is one dramatic example of the indirect impact our actions can have. Our words or actions can touch people we may never see. For instance, I know that the way I raise my children will affect them. But it could also have an impact on how they raise their children, which could impact how they raise their children, generation after generation. In this case, I know there will be a lingering impact. But how many times do our words, actions, and attitudes affect others in ways we’re not aware of. And how many times in turn, do those people make a similar impact on others?

When it comes to preventing the spread of a virus, it’s all about minimizing the harm it causes: How can we keep it from spreading and hurting people? But unlike the virus, our words, actions, and attitudes can also be forces for good. Sure, they could be used for evil. But they could also be used for the benefit of those around us. They could be used to serve and love and teach and encourage those we know. An act of kindness or courage or generosity today will have a positive impact now. But who knows what kind of indirect impact it’ll also have beyond what we currently see?