Trifling Actions Have Big Consequences

Sunday Mail – 3 August 1930

Trifling Actions Have Big Consequences

    It is, perhaps, fortunate for us that we can seldom foresee the ultimate result of our most trifling actions.
    There is a fable about a hare that, running along a mountain-top, dislodged a small stone, which rolled down the mountainside and dislodged a larger stone, which rolled down the mountainside and dislodged a larger stone, and so on till a gigantic stone at the end of the series dislodged a rock and tumbled it into a river in the valley, with the result the river was damned and overflowed its bank, and the inhabitants of the valley were drowned in the flood.
    This fable has been used as a warning to the young against telling even the most apparently trivial lies and. indeed, we do not know whether by telling the most innocent white lie, “Not at home,” by the proxy of a housemaid we may not be affecting the fate of a continent a 1000 years hence. I should say myself that it is a billion to one that we shall be doing nothing of the sort, as it is a billion to hare that no hare by kicking a pebble will cause the flooding of a countryside and the drowning of the inhabitants. But one never knows. It would be distinctly disagreeable to find that one had told the fatal lie in the billion.

    A good example of the potentially big consequences of little things was mentioned the other day by Dr. George Carpenter, the keeper of the Manchester Museum, when he told a popular audience how women, by wearing lizard-skin shoes in England may unwittingly cause the death of numerous natives in India. Stated briefly, this is difficult to believe, but the chain of cause and effect is simple enough.
    Lizard-skins for shoes, bags and other articles cannot be obtained without the destruction of lizards in large numbers. Since lizards eat the eggs of poisonous snakes, lizards cannot be destroyed in large numbers without a consequent increase in the number of poisonous snakes, and the increase in the number of poisonous snakes must in turn lead to an increase in the number of deaths of natives from snake-bite. Thus the woman in the lizard-skin shoes is a potential homicide—a sad ending to a sad ending to a happy day’s shopping.

    Facts such as these may well make human beings pause with an awful sense of responsibility before performing the smallest action. Who knows what may be the ultimate effect of the purchase of a pair of shoelaces? One cannot now be sure whether one can brush the greenfly from rosebush without producing ill effects in some corner of China.
    The man who introduced the first pair of rabbits into Australia—some say in order to increase the opportunities for sport—did not realise that he was doing that continent a thousandfold more injury than the worst criminal who ever landed on its shores, and that the rabbit would become such a pest that even the slaughter of 70,000,000 a year would be unable to prevent its devastation of Australia’s agriculture.
    The man who 60 or 70 years ago introduced the first blackberry plant into New Zealand was as innocent in intention, but that single small plant was the ancestor of a national calamity, and to-day there is a committee sitting devising means of undoing the harm done by that sentimental Nature-lover.
    There are scores of other instances of the evil that results from innocent and trivial actions—the introduction of the sparrow into America, for instance, and, in a smaller degree, the importation of the grey squirrel and the little owl into England.

    It is no wonder that the nations of the earth now stand in terror of the little things, and shut their doors against a bramble as though it were a Bolshevik, and look on a strange insect as suspiciously as if it were a foreign spy.
    We have come to such a pass that a great and powerful nation, the United States, will not permit so much as a St. Patrick’s Day shamrock plant to land on its shores, and only last year Canada reached the peak of apprehension when it made poor widow part with her beloved aspidistra before allowing her to set foot in the Dominion.

    I hope that in all this the nations are behaving wisely They seldom do. But one never knows. In any case, whether we like it or not, we are obviously approaching a time when man on landing in France, will be asked for passport not only for himself, but for the rose in his button hole, and when every nightingale on its arrival in England in April will have to go before a medical board and obtain a temporary permit before it is allowed to nest.

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