Have you ever stopped and wondered what your legacy will be? Everyone is leaving behind something when they meet other people. Are you showing others to become better people or are you one of those ‘bad influences’ our mothers have warned us about?  While you might think you’re living your life and nobody takes notice, quite the opposite is true: Whether we like it or not, some of our values will rub off on other people when we encounter them. This can either be positive or negative.

Your children will imitate your habits, good or bad.

The first and most important influence we have is on our children. Children will take in more information than you ever deemed possible. How many times have you heard a child repeat a bad word, after they only heard it slipping once? Kids are quick to pick up our values and keep them instilled in them for life. Parents, we need to pay close attention here – they’re only young once and they only have one chance to ‘get it right’. Your values will be theirs one day.

Pause and think about that for a moment. Have you been showing the example you would like to see returned one day? If your values will be theirs in the future, so will that aggression. And that laziness. And that disrespect towards other cultures. And while we’re at it, don’t forget those drinking habits and that collection of magazines. Your kids will encounter these things one day and they’ll keep them at heart. Don’t be surprised if you see your bad habits in your (by then, grown up) children one day.

You have a sphere of influence, too

And it doesn’t just stop there. Even single people have their sphere of influence. Just think about your circle of friends, neighbors and family members. They all look at you and see what you’re up to. They notice whether or not you ‘practice what you preach’. They’ll learn from how you’re handling bad circumstances that might have come your way. People will take in your ways and some of your values will rub off on them. When displaying bad habits or behavior, you have a power of sucking people down with you.

On the other hand, what if we displayed behavior we actually want to see returned in others? What if we greeted strangers with a smile and took the time to listen to other people’s stories? What if we would continuously be good examples in showing respect for the environment? How much impact would that have…?

“Be the change you wish to see in the world”
~ Mahatma Gandhi

Have others imitate you.

Live your life in the best possible way and wait until your values inspire others. Great actions have never come from committees or armies. They happened as a result of the commitment of individual people. Think about Joan of Arc, Rosa Parks, Mother Theresa, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Malcolm X… these people started revolutions by setting examples for other people – they lived according to the change they wanted to see.

Live the change, don’t preach it

Preaching is dangerous. People will pay close attention to the lives of the people that do and (virtually) kill them if they do something that is out of line with their plea. On the other hand, if you keep hammering on the fact that you want people to change long enough, they’ll start to seriously dislike you. This one goes hand-in-hand with the previous point: Act your part and wait until others are inspired by your actions. This goes for everything you’d like to see in others, whether it’s minimalism, religion or political views. If you don’t display ‘the fruits’ of your conviction with happiness and kindness, it’s never going to rub off on others, no matter how loud you yell. I’m never going to lead another soul to Christ if I give people the example of how Christians can be hypocrites.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re not important

Everyone has influence on others. You may be quick to think: “Who am I, I’m just another person – nobody pays attention to me”, but the truth is that there are often more people looking at you than you’ll know. And most of the time, many of those people will view you as an ambassador of something. Perhaps it’s the minimalist movement, perhaps it’s a certain faith. Your actions will be looked at and your values will be noticed.

You will be an ambassador

Don’t believe me? Just think about the many people who are now afraid of muslims, because a couple of those decided to fly some planes into the New York twin towers. They see them as ambassadors of their faith and by looking at their actions, they will form an opinion on Islam. While these idiots may have given you fear for their faith, you would probably rethink your opinion if you’d see a kind, smiling woman wearing a headscarf helping an elderly person on the street. She will be looked at, her actions will be judged and her values will become either inspirational or offensive.

Think about that. Think about whether or not you’re worth imitating. Are you setting a good example for your children, relatives or friends? Do you practice what you preach? Are you living the change you’d like to see in the world?

I’ll leave you with this great nugget of wisdom, which was inscribed on the tomb of an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abby (1100 A.D.)

“When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country. But it, too, seemed immovable.

As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it.

And now, as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize: If I had only changed myself first, then by example I would have changed my family.

From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country, and who knows, I may have even changed the world.”