According to Christakis and Fowler, the average person influences more than 1,000 people through his or her various networks. The authors conclude that good and bad behaviors spread up to three degrees, so not only do you influence your daughter, but also your daughter's best friend and her mother.
Behaviors they note as contagious include good ones such as quitting smoking, staying slender and being happy; as well as bad ones, including gaining weight, being unhappy and smoking.
The authors theorize that behaviors can be passed along by people who act as a link, but don't change their behavior. Instead, they simply serve as a conduit. "As part of a social network, we transcend ourselves," write Christakis and Fowler, "for good or ill, and become a part of something much larger. We are connected."
Advocates of personal responsibility and individual action might wonder how much of our behavior is based on individual choice and how much is a reflection of our networks. This focus on networks reinforces the belief that the power comes from individuals — albeit connected individuals — rather than governmental groups or other mass entities.
In the end, perhaps the determining factor is whether we, individually and as networks of individuals, are going to be makers or takers — providing value to the networks we belong in, or taking value out.
It might help for each one of us to think of ourselves as a link between our nation's wonderful history and its bright future. Our job is to connect the two. This understanding of our importance in the context of life's wider patterns provides us with a sense of belonging and purpose.
I hope this new view of connectivity will inspire each of us to strive to be a little better — if not for our own sake, for the sake of the 1,000 people connected to us.
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