“I’m not hurting anyone but myself.” “It’s a victim-less crime.” “It doesn’t matter what I do: nobody cares.”

On the surface those statements may seem true, but they never are. Things we do, good and bad, affect others around us. We can’t help it.

We may have a hard enough time remembering that the things we do today affect US tomorrow:

  • The 15 minutes of exercise may not seem like much, but it adds up if I keep at it.
  • Charging that new outfit on my credit card may cost me three times as much by the time I pay it off.
  • Allowing myself to remain bitter over a past wrong will continue to poison my soul.

All those things are true. And the effect on my own future should be enough to push me to make good decisions today – to live healthy, care for my family, and nurture my relationship with God.

It may be a little harder to see the impact of my daily decisions on other people. But whoever said “No man is an island” was right.

Think pornography only affects you? Ask the wife whose husband has no passion left for her.

Think your anger is only your problem? Ask the son who never knows what kind of father will be coming home tonight.

Think being late to the meeting is up to you? Ask the other committee members whose time you stole while they waited for you.

Think your unhealthy lifestyle is only making YOU sick? Ask the employer who doesn’t get all you could give. Ask the spouse who worries and watches you destroy your health. Ask the friends or family who may be robbed of your energy – or your presence when you check out early.

Think your bad attitude is no big deal? Ask the coworker who has to constantly put up with your complaining.

Think your addiction harms nobody but you? Ask the child whose dad never shows up for school events. Ask the mom who spends nights lying awake, worrying and praying. Ask the husband whose wife loses all the money and leaves the bills unpaid.

Our lifestyle affects everyone we come in contact with, and some we don’t. We may never know the full effect of what we do and how we live our life today.

And what is true in a negative direction is also true in the positive:

  • Your smile may be just the thing that gives a stressed-out single mom the courage to do it all again tomorrow.
  • Your getting out of debt may change the financial future of your family for generations to come.
  • Your integrity when you could have taken the money may give someone else the courage to do the right thing.
  • The way you demonstrate how you treasure your wife may teach your daughter how she deserves to be treated.

And those are only the beginning. Your pattern of behavior, the healthy or unhealthy lifestyle you live, your integrity or lack thereof, the way you handle stress – all that and more effects your own family more than you know, and many others you may never realize.

Does that scare you? I hope not. But perhaps it should sober us all, and help us be more conscious of the effects we have on others.

Your turn: Have you been surprised by the effect you have had on someone else? How did someone else’s behavior affect you, and they perhaps didn’t know? I’d love to hear from you.