On the Corner


By Robert Docter – 

We both impact and are impacted by others in our environment.

I learned long ago that if I want to discover the meaning of a sentence I need to go for the verb. What does impact mean? When I start thinking about impact I realize it’s more than just a verb. It’s also a noun–even an adjective on occasion.

Tiger Woods impacts the golf world in a dramatic way. (verb)

Tiger Woods has made an impact on the game of golf. (noun)

Tiger Woods is an impact player in the televising of golf matches. (adj.)

We impact others. We are impacted upon by others.

Often, we fail to realize that everyone is involved in the impact process. One can’t avoid making some kind of impact. With some, it’s like the impact of an automobile collision. Sudden, scary, damaging and forceful. With others it might be like an impact wrench–strong, powerful, yet helpful in achieving goals. Then again, the impact might be like a feather–light, soft, gentle, passing quickly and quietly. The impact athlete seems almost to be able to change the nature of the game–closely observed, excellent in performance, artistic in style, personable.

The person who believes he or she has absolutely no impact on anyone is very mistaken. They might send many messages to themselves concerning their nothingness, but they fail to realize that the way they respond to others in their environment changes those around them. Silence sends a loud sound–and it’s often not golden. It definitely reinforces the behavior of the noisy ones in the environment. It says: “I agree”–or–“I’m not involved, so take care of things for me.” It says: “I’m worthless and you are valuable”–or “You know best, go ahead with your plans.” Only the total isolate is uninvolved, and even he communicates.

Perhaps the persons with the greatest impact on human life are the parents. Parents can skew a personality more powerfully and permanently than almost anyone else. It begins long before they believe it does. It starts before birth, and it never ends–even in the parent’s death.

Sometime, shortly after birth–possibly around the third month–the child makes his or her first social response. There is eye contact and a smile. The parent’s response in that moment begins to shape the socialization process of a lifetime.

What parents model in their language, in their love and affection for each other, in the sounds of their voices, in their facial expressions, in their caring and physical investment of time and energy, in the values and behavioral consistency they demonstrate, in their dependability, in their warmth and rocking and nurturing and loving with the heat of their bodies, the softness of their lips and the comfort of their arms–all and more impact a life. Infants are defenseless in this impacting process. Adolescents aren’t.

Many parents fail to realize that the elements of unpleasant behavior they perceive in their adolescent children they themselves modeled. This occurs in subtle ways, often unintended, rarely consciously taught, in unexpected moments. Those behaviors are caught like a flu virus in the home.

People take on the characteristics of those around them. The behavior patterns demonstrated by parents are those which will be imitated by their children. Of course, in adolescence the peer group impacts as well. Here, careful, mutually negotiated boundaries established together with the child must illustrate dimensions of mutual trust and love. One thing is certain with adolescents–boundaries will be tested. The best way a parent can show the adolescent love is to establish and maintain boundaries in a non-autocratic manner. I’ve long held that adolescence simply is the infancy of adulthood.

Among the most important questions you will ever ask yourself concerns “What do I allow to impact me?” As adults, we have choices concerning the meanings we give events which have the potential of impacting us. Society’s choices, even though popular, will not always be in our best interest. We must screen these impacts. We must determine our choices on the basis of some consistent value orientation or we will be blown about by the winds of whatever is currently popular–acquisition, infidelity, dishonesty, gluttony, excitement, pleasure. Remember, even on weather maps winds blow toward lows. Our positive values become wind breaks. They slow the process to allow a rational, adult decision.

We impact each other in a reciprocal and symbiotic manner. It’s a process called life. Live it well.

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