How Does a Lighthouse Make a Difference?

Okay, I’m going out on a limb here and posting a reflection piece rather than something with specific takeaways. Although, in this case, my reflections did have concrete positive results.

Since last summer, I’ve been preoccupied with the “ripple effect” metaphor in the context of making a difference in the world. How one small action can set in motion a swell of effects that radiates outward, the ultimate results unknown.

For example, a powerful coaching session can produce insights which change the way a client perceives the world and interacts with other people.  This change then can affect how those people interact with others and so on. These days, when so much seems out of our control, it’s comforting to think that making a small difference in one’s own corner of the world might produce a greater impact. It’s no wonder the ripple effect metaphor is so widely used.

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague mentioned that he’d been reflecting on and writing about lighthouses.  My first impulse was to compare a lighthouse and the ripple effect as metaphors for making a difference in the world. Not surprisingly, I assigned genders to each but then realized the comparison wasn’t serving. So I decided to let go of the ripple effect for a while and see what I could learn from the lighthouse metaphor by itself.

I asked myself, “How can I be like a lighthouse for an upcoming conversation that I fear will be challenging?”

First, the lighthouse is a beacon to guide sailors to port and warn them of danger. I wanted to be a beacon to “guide this person home” to the solid relationship we’ve enjoyed for years. To warn of the danger of getting off track by continuing to argue over trivial things.

Next, a lighthouse has constancy. Not only is the lighthouse structure solid and stable, but it radiates light regardless of whether it’s a calm, star-filled night or a Category 4 hurricane. I wanted to maintain constancy and remain stable no matter what “weather” the conversation brought.

Finally, lighthouses represent a public good rather than a private commodity. Ships make use of what they offer without having to pay. In my upcoming conversation, I wanted to hold the space for the public good (our relationship) and not defend my own position. Not even to feel like I needed to defend my position.

I don’t plan to give up the ripple effect metaphor and, in many ways it feels more like it suits me. However, taking some time to reflect on the lighthouse image offered new insights into how to make a difference. And by the way, the conversation was a success!