Behavior: History’s Common Thread

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them,” William Shakespeare

There is a common thread that weaves its way through this gamut of ‘people groups’ – the Individual, Networks (Families, Clans, Tribes), Organizations, and Civilizations.

The inherent nature of each of these people groups is that they are based on relationships. Each is made up of individuals interacting through an increasingly intricate web, Toynbee’s System of Relations, but at the foundation, the common thread is an individual’s Behavior.

It seems appropriate to introduce here another part of Fundamental Principle 14, the idea of Behavioral Continuity, which implies that these individual behavioral patterns will contribute to the development of group behaviors for the larger and larger groups to which the individual belongs, albeit with some modifications to fit the circumstances.

It is as simple as ABC:

Prevalent Attitudes lead to Practiced Behaviors, which lead to Inevitable Consequences.

Our Integrity, the concept of living as a whole person, ties these Attitudes to our Values and Principles.

“Conventional Wisdom” is the concept that there is always safety in numbers, in thinking with a group, particularly a large one. Most of us would then probably agree with the following “Conventional Wisdom” about Behavioral Impact:

“As an Individual,

-my behavior would have a high impact on me, the Individual (doh!);
-my behavior would have a great impact on my immediate Network (up to the Dunbar Number) and my Family (as a parent);
-my behavior would have only a moderate impact on my Clan (or on my Family if I were a child) or on my department in an Organization;
-my behavior would have a low impact on my Tribe, Organization, or Nation; and
-my behavior would have zero (zip, nada) impact on Civilization.

Of course our behavior will have a high impact on who we are, as without behavior, who are we? For everyone it is the near absolute truth of this leading statement that encourages near universal belief in those statements that follow. It is indeed true that we can sense our behavior decreasing in impact as we try and measure ourselves in larger and larger groups.

However, in reality, “Conventional Wisdom” is the naïve concept (generalization) that there is always safety in numbers. There is not. Remember, lemmings execute “Conventional Wisdom” as they follow their leader off a cliff.   One needs to think through “Conventional Wisdom” (i.e., test the proposition or hypothesis). When we do this with the Behavioral Impact statements above, I think we will find they are wrong in a subtle but very important way.

Active (Direct) and Passive (Indirect) Influence

Look at these statements again. If you are considering how you actively or directly influence others (you speak to them, show them, direct them, manage them, raise them) then I think we would agree that they are accurate statements, valid as “Conventional Wisdom.”

However, we typically fail to consider or recognize our passive influence, the influence we have when we think no one is looking or observing us.

Consider these Behavioral Impact statements again, this time from an Active/Passive standpoint:

“As an Individual,

-my behavior would have a high Active impact on me, the Individual;
-my behavior would have a great Active and Passive impact on my immediate Network (up to the Dunbar Number) and my immediate Family (as a parent. How often does a child learn good and bad behaviors vicariously?);
-my behavior would have only a moderate Active and Passive impact on my Clan (or on my Family if I were a child) or on my department in an Organization;
-my behavior would have a low Active but measurable Passive impact on my Tribe, Organization, or Nation;
-my behavior would have zero (zip, nada) Active but still measurable Passive impact on Civilization.

How can this be? “If I look at myself, I am insignificant, a flea, a drop in the bucket.”

Wrong, except for that last analogy, which actually nullifies the earlier comparisons.

“Just a drop in the bucket.” Exactly, but only as far as this goes. In our ignorance of critical missing information, we stop there. We need to go further, and this brings me back to considering water again. If you can’t tell, it’s one of my favorite important symbols (i.e., “Watch for Water”).  cropped-dsc_0828-watch-for-water-nm-crop-2-enh2.jpg



As opposed to air and other gasses, which are highly flexible and compressible, and solids, which are rigid and not compressible, water and other liquids have unique properties wherein they are fluid, assuming the shape of whatever container they are in, but negligibly compressible. This means they pass along the forces that act upon them virtually unchanged. Consider, for example,

-Without this property, hydraulics would not work. This means hydraulic elevators, car breaks and power steering, caulking guns, and wing surfaces that control aircraft in flight;

-The volume of a cubic foot (a cube, one foot on each side) of water at sea level is still nearly one cubic foot in volume (only compressed by ~5%) at the bottom of the deepest ocean trench (~36,000 ft below sea level), although the pressure at the bottom (>1000 times sea level pressure) would collapse all but the thickest spherical submersible bathysphere (deep sea research vehicle; ~6 inches thick); and

-For the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake off the coast of Japan, the tsunami (moving wave force from the earthquake) was predicted to arrive within hours off the coast of Chile in South America (traveling at a speed of over 500 mph).


(image source: BBC News)

The earthquake force was transmitted very quickly and efficiently in the tsunami wave, which only decreased in height at greater distances because the original force was spread over a larger and larger volume of water.

Just a Drop in the Bucket

Yes, we may just appear to be ‘drops in a bucket’ from a ‘quantity’ viewpoint and conclude that we have no influence or impact on the whole, but that is not the case from a ‘quality’ standpoint.

Our Values and Principles lead to our most Prevalent Attitudes, which determine our Practiced Behaviors, which result in Inevitable Consequences, no matter whether we consider an Individual, a Network, or Civilization. Granted, like the tsunami where the effects may be smaller at greater distances, influence through Behavioral Continuity in larger groups might appear nonexistent, but the impact is still there.

Actively, our Behaviors transmit our Attitudes, Values and Principles very efficiently to those we can directly influence, theoretically up to the Dunbar Number for our Network.

Passively, our Behaviors still transmit our Attitudes, Values and Principles rather effectively to the larger world that can ‘observe’ us, whether by watching us directly, reading about us, reading our blogs and written words, or by being influenced by our ‘students,’ those whom we have actively mentored.

Most importantly, if we choose to play dead, to not actively behave according to our Values and Principles, our Complacency, just as drops of water in the ocean, will still permit the forces we choose to ignore (other’s Values and Principles expressed as Behaviors) to ‘pass on’ very efficiently.

Passive (Indirect) influence has greater impact than Active (Direct) influence.  Passive influence is expansive; Active influence is limited.

This is why exercising one’s right to vote even if we think we are only drops in a big bucket and won’t have any impact is so important (Hello Millennials!). After all, just this week in the Virginia state GOP primary (primaries are where turnouts are typically very small), a little known economics professor defeated the House Majority leader, which will throw the House leadership and the GOP leadership into turmoil, and very possibly alter the outcome of the 2016 Presidential elections. All this, even though the professor may never be elected in the November elections and cast a vote in Congress.


The answer to the earlier question, “If we don’t know we’re in a Civilization, how do we have any influence over it?” is, through our Practiced Behavior. This applies regardless of the size of the ‘people group’ we are dealing with, from an Individual, through Networks, to Organizations, to a Civilization.

We may never achieve greatness or have it thrust upon us, but we can leave a lasting influence or ‘legacy’ that our ‘people groups’ will recognize.

And how do you get to a ‘Legacy’? “Practiced Behaviors, Practiced Behaviors, Practiced Behaviors” (with apologies to Carnegie Hall).

We have a choice: Are we going to be passive, complacent dead water, or active, influencing living water?

About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 06: Incomplete Information, 08: Observing, Listening, Learning, 10: Integrity, 12: Character, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, Lessons from History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Behavior: History’s Common Thread

  1. Jennifer says:

    Mom always said, “You are not an island unto yourself. The choices you make will effect those around you, whether you want them to or not.”


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