I live on the edge of the woods. Beyond the woods are wetlands with ponds and a creek. These environs are home to deer, raccoons, opossums, coypu, Sasquatch*, rabbits, and a variety of birds. At least one pack of coyotes lives here. I’ve seen them a few times, and they leave little gifts** along the trail where I walk. Before I ever saw them, though, I heard them.
I don’t always know what makes them howl, but sometimes I do. I’ve come to expect to hear them when I hear something else first: a siren. Shortly after I hear a siren begin to wail, I often hear a pack of coyotes doing their best to drown it out. I doubt that the police officers and ambulance drivers hear it, as they’re rather preoccupied at the moment. I bet they would be surprised to learn that they often make coyotes howl. Not only is this an unintended consequence, it’s likely an unknown consequence.
Recently I read an article about how stone stacking has a detrimental impact ecologically, geologically, and aesthetically. Moving small stones can leave animals unprotected, cause soil erosion, and tick off people who want to see nature left alone. I had no idea. I had never thought about it.
Imagine everything that is impacted by what you do. Never mind; that’s impossible. We never can know it all (and some of it doesn’t matter). But what if we were more thoughtful about the consequences of our actions? We can train ourselves to think more this way:
- If I work from home two days a week, how will it impact my coworkers?
- When I mow my lawn at 7:00 on Sunday mornings, does it bother my neighbors?
- What if I use less plastic?
- When I lose my temper, what does that do to my health? my kids?
- If I put an inflatable Calvin Coolidge figure on my front lawn, will the neighborhood association establish new rules that cause future generations to forget the meaning of Presidents’ Day?
It’s good news that we can change and grow. Our minds are trainable. We can make a habit of considering consequences more deeply, broadly, and creatively. As a result, we can make better decisions and create more positive impacts. Life is better when we switch off the brain’s autopilot and live more thoughtfully.