Our Sphere of Influence

“When you feel defensive, examine what you fear.” - Fortune Cookie

We as individual human beings are but one node in the network of our society. In simpler terms, our life is like a spiders web. Where the web connects, we live our lives there, nestled into a psychological, social and political framework. Because of our location, we can influence and affect people around us. However, that impact travels along the web to people, places and things that we can not see or fathom. Instead of realizing this tremendous potential, we tend to spend much of our lives worried about things that we cannot change. Why do we tend to worry so much? Could it be part of our survival instinct? How much influence to change our surroundings do we have? What does it matter?

Fear-Based Media

On any given day we can turn on the news and see in high definition, repeated over and over again, all of the bad actors in society. Because of the broad viewer base of the news media; they must focus on something that appeals to the most general audience of all. When a for-profit organization casts a net intended to catch everyone's attention, they must aim for something so visceral, that it digs down to the most fundamental component of human existence. This notion happens to be fear. This idea often stems from the battle of life and death itself. This concept is one aspect that all humans share. We spend a lot of our waking lives avoiding death.

There are systems within us, mechanisms designed to keep us alive. The primary driver to keeping us alive is fear. We stay away from things we fear because they could kill us. The list of these fears is broad, ranging from the unknown to a perceived direct threat to our physical well being. Nevertheless, these all activate the same response in the brain, either fight or flight. So as we are walking around all day, we are continually looking for threats to our existence. Because we fixate so much on survival, when we feel (emotionally) that danger is imminent, it overrides our ability to judge on a rational basis the probability of the event occurring.

The probability of Rare Events

Now, bad things do happen in the world, and there are points in time where fear is healthy and tends to keep us alive. However, when it overtakes our lives, it becomes a problem of focus, concentration (not mental, but related to the frequency of occurrence) and emotion. What it boils down to is that humans are terrible with statistics when vividness and emotion are involved.

The news can vividly convey to us bad things that are happening in the world. This depiction easily elicits a fear-based emotional response. “The emotion is not only disproportionate to the probability, but it is also insensitive to the exact level of probability.” [1] Pg. 323 If this is not clear enough, then some other researchers found “...that the fear of an impending electric shock was essentially uncorrelated with the probability of receiving the shock.” [1] Pg. 326 When we have emotions of fear they become decoupled with the probability of that event not only occurring to us but in general. To drive this point home:

“The probability of a rare event will (often, not always) be overestimated, because of the confirmatory bias of memory. Thinking about that event, you try to make it true in your mind. A rare event will be overweighted if it specifically attracts attention. Separate attention is effectively guaranteed when prospects are described explicitly (“99% chance to win $1,000, and 1% chance to win nothing”). Obsessive concerns, vivid images, concrete representations and explicit reminders all contribute to overweighting. And when there is not overweighting, there will be neglect.” [1] Pg. 333

When we allow news media to fixate on all of the bad things in the world, this is all that we see. If we take a step back, we can realize that the frequency of occurrence is very low compared to the number of members in society at large. In fact, by many metrics society is the safest and most prosperous that it has ever been. One would not understand this by watching any mainstream news program alone.

Steven Pinker of Harvard University says that: “...violence has been in decline over long stretches of time, and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species' existence. The decline of violence, to be sure, has not been steady; it has not brought violence down to zero (to put it mildly); and it is not guaranteed to continue.” [2] Now violence is decreasing, but there are many other issues in the world, many of which ruffle our feathers. Some of us would like to do something about those issues which is healthy and helps to motivate us.

Our Sphere of Influence

This desire to affect change is where our sphere of influence comes into play. We can be with our friends and family complaining about all of the things wrong with the world. However, we should challenge these complaints. What does complaining about someone else’s actions located hundreds or thousands of miles away from us accomplish? Are we taking any positive and affirmative action as a result of these discussions? If we are, that is one thing, but most of the time we like to complain, and then forget.

We can take a different viewpoint here regarding what we can affect. The way in which you and I show up and act in the world has a tremendous amount of influence and effect. The intention starts from deep within us. That is not to say that we don’t have some childhood trauma that makes it difficult for us to act positively all of the time. We all have this sort of baggage. Sorting this out is part of being a human. The important thing is that we keep trending toward doing things that are meaningful to us.

Once we sort our inner workings, we can start to focus on what matters in life. Different things matter to different people. However, it is almost ubiquitous that helping others matters as part of the human condition. So if we start to realize that we have a sphere of influence that includes us, our family, our friends, our friend's friends, and even our friends, friends, friends, then we can see our potential impact is tremendous.

There are some arguments out there that we are only 4 degrees of separation away from anyone in the world. Therefore, how we show up and act, has a ripple effect that flows across much of the human population. There are of course some limitations. The point is that we have a sphere of influence to which we have direct access. The way in which we show up, act and guide those within the area becomes a driving factor by which the people in that sphere act. This ripple effect is all made possible due to our human nature as social creatures.


In conclusion, there is much negativity in the world. It will always be there. There is also much positivity in the world. It is our choice on which portion to focus and to bring into our lives. Once we make this choice, we immediately start to affect our circle of influence. Our direct sphere of influence and interaction may seem small on the surface. However, once we begin to realize the web-like nature of reality, we can see that our reach is far and wide. Therefore, it is critical for us to understand that EVERYTHING we do matters. It is essential to focus our attention well and to cultivate our intention with compassion. This mindset will not only help us but will help everyone around us.


[0] Fascinating data illustrating the decrease in violence: https://slides.ourworldindata.org/war-and-violence/#/title-slide

[1] D. Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

[2] “A History of Violence: Edge Master Class 2011 | Edge.org.” [Online]. Available: https://www.edge.org/conversation/steven_pinker-a-history-of-violence-edge-master-class-2011. [Accessed: 14-Oct-2018].