How have you (inadvertantly) changed someone's life?

I’m not talking about huge hero like rescue efforts or providing scholarships. I’m talking about finding out, perhaps years later, that some little tiny (in your mind) thing you did hit someone else hard, made them think, and changed their life.

I’ve got two, neither of which I thought was a lifechanging moment for anyone when I said 'em:

The first one was when a high school friend of mine and I were sitting in a Denny’s commiserating about how much life sucked and people sucked and our hometown sucked and how were we ever going to become famous actresses stuck here in nowheresville? I just casually said in that, “well, everyone knows…” tone, “Well, you know, if we REALLY wanted to move to LA, we could get plane tickets tomorrow. There’s nothing keeping us here! We just like to talk as if we want to act, but we don’t do what we need to to make it happen!” Apparently, I was right, because 48 hours later, she was gone! I was a little spooked over that, actually. She didn’t say goodbye or anything, just packed up and went off chasing her dreams. That was the first time I felt the power of my own words.

The second was much more recent: a woman who chose to have a baby with her rather sick partner, after I said, “Well, you know, I think every person who decides to have a kid should do so under the assumption that they’re going to be a single parent. Not every guy leaves like my kid’s sperm donor, but some work obscene hours and some get hit by a bus! You just have to take it on as if you’re going to be the only parent forever and hope you won’t be.” She decided that her partner’s likely death in the next few years was a gamble worth taking to have a baby with him. She did, and he did die when the boy was about a year and a half, but I’d never seen him so alive as in those last 18 months with his son. I’m proud of that one, I admit. But, again, a little scared about the power of my own words. I thought it was just somethin’ I was sayin’ in a conversation, you know? Turned out she was really taking my advice as serious advice from Someone Who Knows!

How 'bout you?

(It occurs to me that this OP might come off as Braggy McBraggerson, but I trust that anyone who’s been there knows how humbling and a little scary this sort of thing actually is, and anyone who’s not…well, I think it’s just that you don’t KNOW you’ve done it. I think we’ve all changed countless lives with casual words or deeds.)

One time I was discussing gay marriage with a 70 something guy. He was a really nice guy, but started the whole “what gay people do” line. I said “What gay people do? You mean like go to work, go to church, pay taxes, take care of their partners, children, houses.” We got into a philosophical conversation about judging people based on what they do maybe one hour a week (if you’re lucky). He later told me that talk changed his entire opinon on the subject. He had never thought about how gay couples live pretty much the same as straight couples!

A story about my mother, the sermon illustration. (Not at our church, interestingly enough).

20 years ago, give or take slightly, Mom had a friend I’ll call Beth. Beth was employed part-time as a church secretary. (Beth attended our church, but worked for a different church. And frankly, I know just enough about what goes on behind the scenes at some churches to make me think that this was a very wise choice on her part. But that doesn’t really matter to the story. The two churches were different denominations. And that’s really irrelevant).

Anyway, Pastor (the minister at the church Beth worked at) was actively involved in trying to bring a particular Walkathon type event to our community. He wanted it to be an interdenominational thing, and he had been working really hard for months, and stuff just wasn’t working out the way he wanted it to. Beth, being employed as his church secretary knew he was frustrated, and commented it on it to my mother.

My mother picked up a card when she was looking for Birthday cards or something which said something to the effect of “You’ve worked your tail off, and I’m proud of you” and wrote a keep up the good work message inside and mailed it.

Pastor opened his mail, one dreary “why am I still trying” day, and got this card. It struck him like a bolt of lightning, or a message from God–you are doing the right thing. Keep it up.

So he did keep it up. And six months later, (or whatever, it’s been twenty years, and I know this all second or third hand) the walkathon took place. Things didn’t magically get better after that card, and I’m not sure it was the only one at the time, but in retrospect it’s one of those lightbulb moments. If he’d quit trying then, that would have been the end of it.

Some time later, post walkathon, in a sermon on encouragement, or listening for God’s voice, or something, he told that story, mentioning my mother by name. And since my mother knew a few people in that congregation, they mentioned it to her.

Mom has always been inclined to send people little notes of encouragement. But that story has made it an even higher priority for her.

One time I was at a party, in middle school, and at that time I was really REALLY into music. I was becoming quite a little music snob.

The guy throwing the party had invited everyone to bring their own CDs to play in his stereo. I popped in some KMFDM and this other kid at the party was just absolutely blown away by it. He started digging deeper into music (starting with my collection) at that point and now is one of the most musically well-versed people I know.

It seems pretty inconsequential but he still reminds me of it, more than 10 years later, and thanks me for it. I think his deal was that he is one of those insanely smart people but up until then he never had a hobby or any real interest in the arts. Discovering and analyzing new music became his “thing,” something that helped him mentally and socially, and he never had it until I showed him what was out there.

I went out on a group date with some friends–we all wanted to go to this big show and then dancing afterwards (proper dancing, that’s important)–and I was paired up with a new guy I didn’t know very well. We had a nice enough time, and this new guy could actually dance, which impressed me. I went home and told my roommate that she should go out with him, because he could dance. So they went out dancing. And then started dating, and got engaged, and next thing they knew they were married. I like to take a little credit for that one (and they are still happily married 12 years later). :wink:

I once told my best friend something small in the ‘life advice’ category. Six months later, she told me that she had taken it to heart and it had totally changed some things.


I’m not certain how I may have inadvertently changed someone else’s life (I’m assuming that means “changed for the better”, as that seems to be the tone this thread is taking). It may have happened, but if so, I never heard about it.

I’m now thinking about how someone else may have inadvertently changed my life for the better. And I have an example.

There was this guy. He was in my electronics class, but we didn’t know each other very well. A few years later, we met again at work, and a little after that, he became my boss for a time. This did not work out very well; he left the company, and years later I’m still there.


At one point, we went to visit a friend of his, who turned out to be a semi-famous Canadian musician, whose music I’d been a fan of since high school. At that friend’s apartment, I encountered the luminously-beautiful music of Sheila Chandra, whom I later saw live at the Power Plant in Toronto.

She awakened in me a whole interest in Indian music and its cross-pollination with Western music, which has spread to food, and now I am learning about peoples and a part of the world that I knew nothing about. And suddenly all kinds of things about my own British heritage are making more sense too!

So from one Saturday afternoon in Toronto, whose participants are long gone from my life, has come a whole skein of richness.

Okay - I have a story like this:

I was acquaintances with a guy in high school - basically we were both friends with the same buddy, but me on the academic side and the other guy (let’s call him Ben) on the sports side. So Ben and I ended up hanging out together because of our mutual friend, but weren’t really friends much ourselves.

Because Ben was a football star-kinda guy in high school, he got set up with what was then thought of as a cush job - janitor in this office building. Paid 2+ times minimum wage and he could really manage his time with very little supervision. Since I made minimum in a sandwich shop, I was very jealous.

Cut to 25 years later: we’re both at the wedding of our mutual friend. Ben sees me and says “Dude, I want a few minutes at the dinner with you tonight.” I got a bit anxious simply because I had no idea where this would go. I was a smart-ass nerd with delusions of grandeur back then and it wouldn’t be the first time I was told I was a dick to someone in high school. I told my wife that I would probably end up apologizing for something I had completely forgotten I’d said.

That night, Ben pulled me aside and said “Dude - do you remember that night when I was working as a janitor and couldn’t stop falling asleep and called you to try to keep myself awake?”

Uh, no actually - but I didn’t tell him that; I guess he must’ve called me after he couldn’t reach his better friends.

“Yeah - I put you on speaker phone while I worked - you ended up reading a chapter out of the book you were reading at the time: The Shining. I just wanted you to know that I had to know what happened, so I got the book. It was the first book I ever read for pleasure in my life. I loved it! I got more of his books and I have been reading ever since. So thanks for giving me the gift of reading.”

He was deeply sincere as he said that to me and I couldn’t have been prouder. I still feel great typing this here…

I’ve been a part of several internet communities over the years. One was an ongoing evolution of message boards where I posted on-and-off for about six years starting in 1999, and where I still poke my head in occasionally. We’ve had some real life get togethers and everything. We saw members through births, deaths, hurricanes, moves, marriages, breakups, illnesses… you name it.

We had some concern about one member who was experiencing escalating domestic violence at home. It started with just serious control issues, with her husband wanting her to stop posting on the message boards and getting angry if he “caught” her reading or posting on them. He created his own ID to check up on her, that sort of thing. I actually don’t remember a lot of what went on, but I know I exchanged emails with her and gave her my cell phone number. She was pregnant with her daughter at the same time my friend was having her son, so we shared that… the babies were born on the same day, even.

Finally, she had enough and made arrangements to leave her husband. I got an email, I think it was, that her “escape” was happening. I was worried for her and her baby, and I knew she must have been terrified, so I sent a text message to her phone to encourage her that she was doing the right thing.

She emailed me later to say that she got the text while she was driving to turn in the paperwork for the restraining order against her husband. Her family was at her house packing her stuff, and she was so scared her husband was going to call and be able to tell something was up and catch her before she and the baby got to the shelter. I still have the email… she wrote: “I was exhausted and about thisclose to falling apart completely. Your message gave me the strength to finish out the day, and get me and [baby] safely in the shelter. It meant a lot to know that somebody far away was thinking of me, and caring. I finally did fall apart the next day during battered women’s group, and it was embarassing, but it was necessary, and it was ok because we were safe. Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you.”

I cried and cried when I got that email, because I sent off that text message in a few seconds with barely a thought, and it made such a difference.

(By the way, she is happy and healthy now, and lurks here at SDMB, and I hope it’s ok that I shared that.)

I’ve been a key component in at least three now-married couples meeting, totally unintentionally, maybe four.

Most interestingly, in high school I had a girlfriend who was seriously Jewish. Her dating me, a non-Jew (half Jewish, but the wrong half), apparently caused her parents to have a midlife crisis and become way more seriously Jewish. This caused them to send her younger sister to some seriously-Jewish-summer-camp/program, which she really didn’t want to do… except that she met her future husband there.

Sophomore year of college, My friend A begged me to do something to help his roommate M, who had no girlfriend or hobbies and generally moped around.

So, kicking and screaming I dragged him down to the Theater Dept and got him set up helping backstage at a small show.

He as hooked! He ditched his degree in Poli Sci, switched to Theater, interned at Juilliard, then went back to school for a PhD in Theater and is now executive director at a theater in upstate NY.

All because he was bugging his roommate. :slight_smile:

Many years ago, a young man in our circle of friends surprised us all by suddenly becoming a fundamentalist christian, and going on and on at length about how we should stop listening to the music we listened to, because it was all part of a giant satanic consipiracy. He used the usual fundie arguments to support this position.

I tried to explain to him that if you used fuzzy “reasoning” like that, you could prove anything was satanic, and it didn’t make any sense to subscribe to this belief.

To demonstrate, I picked the least satanic thing I could imagine (Christmas,) and came up with a long dissertation on why it was a crypto-satanic holiday. (Of course, I explained to him that I didn’t believe this, and was merely making an absurdist analogy between the faulty logic his was already embracing and the same sort of logic applied to something else.)

I started with the obvious and familiar, such as “Santa” being an anagram, Himself employing diminutive, pointy-eared minions, and all the rest – but I got creative after that, and went way out into cloud-cuckoo land. What about the many conspiracy theorists who report that there is an opening at the North Pole leading down into the Hollow Earth? (Hell, naturally.) Why does Santa say “HO HO HO?” Nobody laughs like that! Count the number of letters between “H” and “O” to reveal the secret message! Etc, etc., ad nauseum.

I meant to show him how absurd the methods he’d trusted to arrive at his conclusions were – but unfortunately, my “argument” convinced him, and I couldn’t undo it. :smack:

Within weeks, Aleister became a Jehovah’s Witness, and remains a devout adherant of that belief system.

About 20 years ago I put two friends in touch with absolutely no intention of matchmaking - and romance resulted. Last I heard they’re still together. Their kids are teenagers.

A sister of a friend from Kalamazoo invited me along to a home bible study when I was about 20 and when she gave me the address, I noted it was nearby (Detroit-area). She told me it was the home of a friend she’d made through her christian college group who’d just become a christian while in high school. When she told me her friend’s name I was floored; I’d worked with her about 5 years before over a long winter and hadn’t heard from her since. I wasn’t able to go to the study but sent my regards.
Late that night Sister calls me and says, “You won’t believe this, but when I told Jenny I knew you and you said hello, she was stunned; she turned to the bible because of you!”. I’m ashamed* to admit that I was a bible-banger through most of high school and even took my Ryrie study bible with me to work, where Jenny worked too. I talked my usual talk and I never thought anyone was listening, much less taking my ideas to heart. Since then, Jenny went to do mission work and met her husband (also a missionary) and they now have 5 kids and live in Westchester County. (As does Sister now as well.)

*The shame comes from admitting that I’m now a terrible back-fallen christian who no longer wears her cross because she doesn’t want people to think, “A christian acts like that?!”

I once made an offhand comment to a friend of mine that she “oughtta meet my brother”. I’d known her for about a year and the comment just popped out of my mouth one evening. This started me thinking that she really should meet my brother, so I introduced them. They’ve been married for 28 years now and have two great kids.

It was my finest hour, matchmaking-wise.

Well, it doesn’t have to be for the better, although I’m getting all kids of warm fuzzies and a few goosebumps reading these. I’m not actually sure that my first example was for the better, as she didn’t, in fact, make it as an actress, and like so many young women who head out to LA with nothin’ but a suitcase and dreams, has had a hard life of it as a result. Still, she tried, and she’ll always have that certainty, unlike me.

The thread’s inspiration was a very loud pit thread involving a whole bunch of people yelling at one person, and someone said (paraphrasing), “Y’know, we’re talking to ourselves here, nothing we’re saying is making a dent.” Got me to thinking about how sometimes it’s the oddest little thing that gets through to someone when you weren’t even trying. Some offhand comment might just take root and grow. And most of the time, I expect, you never even know. I happen to know two of my seeds landed, and wondered who else did, too.

There’s a guy at my college, Mike. He’s flamboyantly gay, and very touchy. He would do things like get drunk and grab girls’ breasts and say, “It’s ok, I’m gay!” People would sometimes hide from him.

One night I was at a party, with an hors d’ouvre in my hand, when he came up behind me, took my snack, and rubbed his crotch against my leg. I said “I am going to report this as sexual harassment.” He didn’t seem to care, but I did.

After I reported it, he called me up and apologized, sincerely. He said he never thought anyone minded that much, that he didn’t think his drinking was such a problem, etc, etc. I ended up withdrawing my report, because he really was sorry. I don’t know if he cut down on his drinking, but he did cut down on his harassment.

A semi-update and some more thoughts about the power of our words.

I’m so used to thinking of myself as essentially powerless, or at least inconsiderable*. It is a bit of a shock, even a terrible one, when something happens that shows that my words do have power.

I got an email today. A stranger in another city had seen my website, and it demonstrated to him that somerthing he’d thought impossible was quite doable in our climate. He’s all excited, and he sent a long message saying how this had gioven him hope and wanting to know more. Now I’m excited too. :slight_smile:

[sub]*And why that mode of thinking is my default, is a whole other issue that I won’t get into here.[/sub]

I don’t know if it was something I did actively, but I do know that a couple of my more nerdy (well, EXTREMELY nerdy and awkward) buddies in high school avoided being picked on much due to their friendship with me, and I think it’s kept them from hating high school so much and being bitter. Or, at least from what I can tell, they’re not nearly as bitter as the other geeks who I wasn’t pals with, and who really got picked on.

(FWIW, I was on the varsity offensive line for my Sophomore & Junior years, and was generally well-liked in the jock set, so they didn’t pick on my friends for fear of offending me.)

I told my friend about this great message board I was on. ahem ahem She joined, and joined the associated chat room, too.

Where she met her future husband.

I’ve actually thought about this a fair amount. I wonder if such small actions won’t end up having more impact on the world than all the work I’ll do, all the stuff I could publish, all the direct and intentional impact I’ll have.

Hah - I wrote a speech on the very same subject last year at school. It won me the speech cup, too.