Take a jar of water, cool it and cool it, and it remains water down to 35 degrees, then 34, then 33, then suddenly the water turns to ice. The temperature was consistently reduced, but at one point the whole system suddenly changed. The point at which the system changed is what we know call the “Tipping Point”. Arguably the most complex system known to science is the human brain. There are billions upon billions of neurons, each with possibly thousands of synaptic connections bathed in multiple chemical transmitters, it is difficult to imaging the sheer volume of interactions that go on. It may be hard to determine what small factor could have been in the wrong place at the wrong time to contribute to a mental health problem – like a tiny pebble kicked off a path that creates an avalanche further down the mountain.
The beauty of tipping points is that a complex system can just as easily tip up as down. A small and seemingly inconsequential action can lead to a successful turn around from a seemingly hopeless situation. Perhaps a lonely, depressed young man decides one day to go for a walk. Then he starts walking a few times a week. On one occasion he tries running for a while. Then he begins to run more often. Each time he can go a little farther. He soon notices that he is sleeping and eating better, that he has more energy and looks better in the mirror. That isolated first walk hay have started a sustained chain of events that are now building toward improving the man’s self-esteem and increasing his energy, affecting his entire brain-body system. One day, feeling physically and mentally stronger, the man finds a new job. He begins to make new friends, starts to laugh = and suddenly he finds his life has turned around.
As youth workers we must understand that each moment we spend with a student is potentially that student’s tipping point toward a full life in Christ. The potential holistic impact is off the charts. That one, seemingly innocuous conversation, that trip to the store where you invited him/her to “tag along”, that one encouraging text message might turn out to be the turning point in the story. Likewise, that moment when a student is being “jokingly” picked on and we don’t advocate, that one moment when I’m too busy with budget stuff to take a call, that one moment when I refuse to listen to another break up story could have a lasting impact as well. Everything we do has impact, whether we know it or not.
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone,” Col. 4:5-6(NIV)
Excerpts taken from “A User’s Guide to the Brain” by John J. Ratey M.D.