The Subtle Power of the Ripple Effect

Working Step Ten

The Ripple Effect is the effect we have on other human beings, based on what we do (or don't do), what we say (or don't say), and how we show up in each moment. Our words and actions naturally ripple out to the people around us—and then to the people around them, and the folks around them. It's an ongoing interactive process.

The Ripple Effect is as profound as it is subtle.

Noticing the Ripple Effect

Before recovery, we didn't see the Ripple Effect at all. We were largely unaware of how our behavior affected others. Or, if we were aware, we either denied or ignored the impact we had, or we simply didn't care.

Early in our recovery, we may not have recognized the Ripple Effect very well. We were focused primarily on our own healing, sanity, and serenity. These were worthwhile goals, of course—but they were still self-oriented.

By the time we did our first Steps Four through Nine, however, we had begun to see how our life and the lives of others are inextricably interwoven. When we first worked Step Nine, we understood this well enough that we didn't make amends just so we would feel better. We did it because we recognized that our decisions, words, and actions had harmed other people.

Now, as you work Step Ten in your own recovery, you will start to see how all your decisions, words, and actions ripple out and affect others. You'll also notice how everyone else's decisions, words, and actions ripple out in the same way.

The Ripple Effect: Part of the Fabric of Life Itself

In his history of AA, Not-God, Ernest Kurtz saw the Ripple Effect at work within each AA group. He described it as "the shared honesty of mutual vulnerability openly acknowledged."

Maybe you remember a popular movie from the year 2000 called Pay It Forward, starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment. It offers a moving look at the Ripple Effect in action—as well as an honest depiction of the disease of alcoholism.

As you continue working the Program, the Ripple Effect will become more and more visible to you. Eventually you will see it functioning everywhere at all times. It will seem at once magical and utterly ordinary. It will seem so clear to you that you wonder how people can miss it.

The Ripple Effect in Action

The most obvious form of the Ripple Effect involves our words and actions.

By now you've probably noticed that even small changes in what you say and do can sometimes have profoundly different effects on other people. For example, there's a difference between asking someone with curiosity and concern, "Are you upset with me?" and asking them the very same question with defensiveness and irritation. The first tone of voice is likely to encourage a concerned, caring response that can lead to a resolution of the problem and closer relationship with that person. The second may encourage an angry or dismissive response that escalates into further conflict and alienation. If you've done a Tenth Step before you ask, identifying your feelings of fear and defensiveness before you ask the question, and asking your Higher Power to remove any defects associated with those feelings, then you're more likely to be fully present and genuinely want to know if you've done something to upset that person.

I've created these simplified examples simply to illustrate how the Ripple Effect works. Real life is of course more complicated and nuanced. Most events have multiple causes and an even larger number of effects.

On any given day, most of us make hundreds of small and large decisions, act in hundreds of different ways, and say hundreds of different things to a wide range of people. Each interaction and conversation has its own Ripple Effect, and we can't control them all. What we can do is—after having cleaned house with Steps Four through Nine—relax, knowing that we now have the insight and tools with Step Ten to face each day and moment with openness and serenity.

Excerpted from Drop the Rock. . .' The Ripple Effect: Using Step 10 to Work 6 and 7 Every Day by Fred H.

Fred H. has worked in the field of addiction and recovery for thirty-seven years and is the director of the retreat center for a leading addiction treatment program. He is a popular international speaker on the Big Book and the principles of the Twelve Steps.

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