The Elevator Connection
Do you ever press the wrong button?
Several years ago, a very ordinary event changed my perspective on the impact of human interactions. I had just left my college library and was making my way to the elevator, arms leaden with my textbook and other school supplies. I had trouble pushing the elevator button to go up, but the telltale ding went off after a couple of seconds. "This was lucky," I thought, because sometimes I had to wait a while before an elevator reached the floor I was on.
However, I was surprised to see that the arrow above the elevator was signaling to go down.The doors opened, and a group of chattering college students waited for the person who had pushed the button to come aboard. No one boarded, of course, and I stood dumbly as the elevator doors closed on the still chattering crowd. Almost no one’s expression had changed; they just hadn’t noticed or cared. I realized, of course, that being unable to see what I was doing, I had pushed the wrong button. It was a seemingly small thing, but the event really struck a chord.
Every little thing we do has the potential to have a huge effect. I have heard many true stories of how even a smile can go as far as literally saving a person’s life. Of course, the person giving that smile had no idea what was going on in the recipient’s head, and so it is with all of us. We have no idea how our actions are contributing to the world during every second of the day. To me, those actions include not only conscious ones but also those that perhaps we don’t even think about. After watching the elevator doors close, I pushed the “up” button and wondered how my action had affected those people. I had delayed them unnecessarily for perhaps less than ten seconds, but what would have happened in those ten seconds for them? Of course, I probably delayed myself even more. This is also an important point, since it’s possible that something significant might have occurred had I pressed the right button from the start. And then again, maybe not.
A mass e-mail I once received talked about the worth of various blocks of time and the people who, through their experiences, could tell us their worth. I no longer remember who was listed as one who knew the worth of one second, but perhaps one who has gone through a near-death experience would be a case in point. A good example of this would be the classic movie directed by Frank Capra, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The protagonist, George Bailey, played by well-known actor Jimmy Stewart, dreams of leaving his small town behind to explore the world. However, his deep care for the town and a series of events shatter those dreams repeatedly. At one point, George is deeply depressed and feels that everyone would have been better off had he never been born. He is then shown what his town would have been like if he had not been born - quite the opposite of what he felt.
I often feel a bit overwhelmed when I read articles in which the author tries to impress upon his or her readers the importance of doing this or that. I’m not saying that pushing the wrong elevator button by accident is a terrible thing. In fact, I have since repeated my mistake on occasion. My goal is to make you (and me) think, to encourage you to realize the importance of each and every person in the world. People share their lives with others, and every action we do makes an impression in the world. Maybe it’s a small impression and maybe it’s not, but just as millions of individuals make up the inhabitants of the world, millions of small impressions shape the lives of those millions of people.