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  • Writer's pictureTamra Wade

Your Three Feet of Influence

By Tamra Wade

From the Paper Hope Archive

I recently read an article, Your Three Feet of Influence by Shannon Salberg for On Being. She tells a story of a man making his way through the New York City subway commute. Lots of people, lots of movement and lots and lots of irritation provoking interactions. 

She tells us about this man’s choice not to interact with irritation, but to interact with even the smallest amounts of niceness, “Instead the space around Frank was calmer because he’d paused before adding to the friction. He had done his part not to enhance the misery in the three feet around his body that were his to influence. Few people are powerful enough, persuasive, persistent, consistent, and charismatic enough to change the world all at once, but everyone has the ability to affect the three feet around them by behaving more ethically, honestly, and compassionately toward those they meet.” 

I love this so much. 

Salberg is right. We might not have the platform to change the world in big grand sweeping gestures, but we always have the ability  to influence the three feet around us. 

This is powerful.

Even on our worst days, we have the ability to extent small niceties and kindness. 

I have been putting this concept to the test. I have slowed my pace and changed my perspective when out and about. 

While driving I am aware of others needs and help to facilitate lane changes and extended basic kindnesses where I can. I do this freely and without the desire for reciprocation. I don’t expect the receiver to waive or otherwise acknowledge my gesture. 

While interaction with others in a store or public space, I have elected to make eye contact, smile and genuinely acknowledge the people in my three feet of influence. I have been doing this even prior to reading Salberg’s article. I feel very strongly about behaving this way in these types of interactions not only with my loved ones, but with strangers.

Salberg points out it’s not always easy to behave in this way, “Yes, it may be tough to hold to these values when you may feel them under threat. Close quarters, like a crowded space, automatically engage our defenses. When someone breaches that imaginary boundary, our first reaction is to push back without pausing for a moment to examine the nature of the intrusion. Is it an act of aggression, someone who wants to harm us?” She goes on to say,  “When we consider the three feet of space around us as our canvas, we can more and more make those assessments and act creatively in a way that deescalates conflict.”

The rippling effect of one small moment of control can help fortify another. 

Think about it. How do you feel when someone makes room for you in traffic, allows you to step in front of a busy check out line with your one item, or greets you with genuine connection. If feels good. It might actually be the determining interaction between a progressively terrible day and one that seems to be turning around. It might just fuel you enough to connect positively with the next person you interact with.

It works in reverse too. 

You too will benefit from having composer, slowing down, extending your kindness and really allowing yourself to connect with those you share space with. Over this short amount of time that I have been acting this way, I see that I am not elevated to irritation as much nor as quickly. I feel more happiness while interacting. It seems that I too am fortified in sharing my space in this manner. 

No one will be perfect in our interactions. Salberg says, “You cannot control the world, the country, your town, the mood swings of those you love, but you can try to create around you a little bit of space that is all your own, a place where the rules of interaction you’ve chosen make sense and your actions have integrity.”

It’s not a grand sweeping action, but a million tiny acts of fortification will add up. They will positively affect you and those in your three feet of influence. Give it a try. Let me know how your interactions change. Let me know if it changes you in any way and how.

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