It was the flutter of a wing felt around the world. In 1963, Edward Lorenz presented his hypothesis about the “butterfly effect” to the New York Academy of Science. A butterfly could flap its wings on one side of the world and set molecules of air in motion,which could then move other molecules of air. The cumulative effect had the potential to create a hurricane on the other side of the world.
The Academy laughed at the idea. But the concept, because it was so fascinating, endured. Physics professors in the mid-1990s established that it was accurate and valid. It proved true every time. And not just with butterflies and air molecules, but with all living matter, including people. Thus was established “the law of sensitive dependence upon initial conditions.” In other words, a small impact on the initial conditions of a situation can greatly change the outcome.
Author and speaker Andy Andrews, in his book The Butterfly Effect and in his popular presentations, tells about hearing a television news program about Norman Borlaug, who was credited for saving the lives of over two billion people through his work producing corn and wheat hybrids for arid climates. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for significantly increasing the world’s food supply.
Or was it Henry Wallace who really saved all those lives? Wallace was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second vice president; he previously had served as secretary of agriculture. As vice president, Wallace created a station in New Mexico that was dedicated to hybridizing corn and wheat for arid climates. To run it, he hired a young man named Norman Borlaug. So it was Henry Wallace who was the original source of this impactful discovery, then. He certainly seems to deserve at least some acknowledgment.
Unless, perhaps, it was George Washington Carver who saved those lives. You undoubtedly know about him for what he did with peanuts and sweet potatoes, developing them as alternative crops to provide nutrition and a spectrum of other products for poor Southern farmers. What you probably don’t know is when Carver was a student at Iowa State University, a dairy sciences professor let his 6-year-old son accompany the brilliant student on weekend botanical expeditions. Carter befriended the boy and instilled in him a love of plants and a vision of what they could do for humanity. The boy’s name was Henry Wallace.
George Washington Carver flapped his butterfly wings, and touched the life of a boy who would grow into a man who helped change the world and save the lives of over two billion people. So it was Carver, then, who truly saved all those lives, right?
Unless, of course, it was a Civil War-era farmer from Diamond, Missouri, a man named Moses, and his wife named Susan. Susan had developed a close friendship with a slave named Mary Washington, who had an infant baby named George. One night, a group of night raiders kidnapped Mary and the baby. Susan was distraught over the loss of her friend and sent out word to learn what had become of her and the infant. Several days later, Moses was able to set up a meeting with the raiders at a crossroads to the north. He rode several hours on horseback and met four of the men, who showed up carrying torches and wearing burlap sacks over their heads with holes cut out for their eyes. He traded his horse for what they threw him in a dirty bag.
As the men thundered off on their horses, he got down on his knees, opened the bag, and took out a baby, cold and nearly dead. He put that frightened little child inside his coat next to his skin and wrapped him tightly, talking to him during the long walk home on that winter night. He and Susan vowed to raise him as their own and educate him. They gave that little boy their own family name, keeping his last name as his middle name in honor of his mother, who perished in the raid.
That is how Moses and Susan Carver came to raise baby George Washington Carver. And you can see how one easily could make the case that it was Moses and Susan Carver who saved those two billion souls.
This conversation could go on and on. And we could have such conversations about our own lives – our opportunities to influence those we touch now and for generations to come. It is important to remember that what we do matters, not just for ourselves and our families, but for our communities and – who knows? – perhaps even for all of humanity.
At the end of the classic Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey’s brother Harry toasts “the richest man in Bedford Falls” as friends and relatives stream into George’s house to help him in his hour of need. George had been on the brink of suicide because of financial ruin until the angel Clarence gave him a rare opportunity to experience what his town and the lives of those he loved and cared for would be like had he never been born. George learned that night just how significantly he had touched, impacted, and transformed so many others during his own lifetime.
George Bailey, too – without even realizing it – had flapped his butterfly wings.
-Excerpt from You Can Do More That Matters, Chapter 1
Ron Ware, J.D. and Greg Hammond, CFP®, CPA are wealth impact strategists and personal legacy advisors who help individuals, families, and business owners enhance their financial standing while discovering a greater capacity to provide for their loved ones and support cherished charities. Contact Ron or Greg.