Little things make a big difference

FLINT – When I was a kid, my mother would sometimes say to me, “Be careful what you do, you never know who’s watching.”

I took that to mean that even if she didn’t catch me doing something I shouldn’t be doing then someone else probably would.

Back then, that was a real threat. If a parent on the block saw you playing too much of the fool, they’d call your parents, and then you’d get double the punishment – once for the original sin, then again for embarrassing them in front of the neighbors.

It didn’t take a village to raise kids back then but the people who lived along 18th Avenue South back in my hometown were certainly more than happy to help keep them on the straight and narrow. We need more of that today, of course, but I’m getting off topic.

Mom’s words came back to me when I received an email this week from a professor at a local university that began with a few lines from Dr. Seuss: “Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!”

I was puzzled, too. The rest of the email explained: “On the front page of the June 20, 1999, “Today” section of the (Flint) Journal were the results of a children’s art contest for Father’s Day. My daughter Debbie, then 7, had her drawing of me printed in the paper. Two years later when her school class toured the Journal, she was very excited to see that you had that page with her art as the screen saver on your computer.

“Well, she was encouraged and went on to design the advertising posters for her high school plays and even won a contest to design a game character (Flame Puppy for Her full-sized Audrey II (Little Shop of Horrors) is now owned by the Flint Children’s Museum. Today she is a student at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. Her first animated e-book will be released (soon) in the Apple app store for iPhone and iPad. (So) a Flint girl tries to make a splash in the art world and it all started with a picture published in the Flint Journal!”

What can you say to that other than “Way to go, Debbie!” It goes to show you what a little encouragement can mean to a kid.

She sounds like a talented young lady, so she’d probably have chosen the path she’s on regardless of whether she won that contest or saw her drawing in the paper or on a columnist’s computer screen. Then again, who’s to say? Without little nudges in certain directions, who knows what path kids will take?

Her journey is a reminder, I think, of how much we impact one another’s lives whether we realize it or not, and that’s something to bear in mind as we go through our days.

Some people call it the “butterfly effect.” A butterfly in Michigan flaps it’s wings, which causes a ripple, which causes something else to happen, and so on and so forth until that little flap ends up being the root cause of you getting a job promotion or a hurricane forming in the Atlantic.

I don’t know if there’s anything to the butterfly effect, but I do think that because we live in such a celebrity-crazed society, most people assume they’d have to be a sports star, rock legend or president of the United States to have much of an impact on the world.

Debbie’s success suggests the opposite – that little things can matter in big ways, Which is why I’m going to be ever-mindful of what I say and do.

After all, you never know who’s watching.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Write to Andrew Heller at or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.