Albert’s Compass

In 1883, a father gave his ill son Albert a compass to play with while he was sick in bed.  The father thought nothing more of it as he watched the boy move the compass this way and that.  For him it was just another boy playing with a compass – like thousands of boys had done before and countless thousands would do after.  The father couldn’t have known that this very act would change the world.  It has even changed your life as you sit here today.

For as the four year old boy moved the compass, he was astonished to discover the needle inside seemed to move all on its own.  No matter which way he turned the case, the needle inside was guided by some unseen forces so that it always pointed in a certain direction.

In young Albert’s limited experience things only moved when something physically touched them.  A cup only moves along the surface of a table when a finger makes contact with the cup and pushes it.  Even a door that slams only does so because the wind pushes on it.  Yet here was a needle – completely sealed in a glass case with nothing touching it – being moved by some unseen force.

Albert was only four and so he could not put into words the fascination and wonder he felt.  Though if he could have articulated his thoughts, perhaps he would have said he was captivated by how ‘forces could act at a distance’.  How could something move something else without ever making contact with it? Understanding these hidden forces became his life’s passion.  He thought about it day and night.

Albert’s compass had no power on its own and it could have been bought for less than a dollar.  However, it ended World War II, enabled man to walk on the moon and was instrumental in the development of medicines that saved millions of lives, because 22 years later the same Albert Einstein unleashed a blitz of scientific papers that completely revolutionized the world.  Three papers in a single year – each worthy of a Noble Prize. Both the Atomic and Quantum ages were born because of Albert’s passion for understanding how forces act at a distance.  Truly the world was never the same again.

Your life today is different because of that little four year old boy wonder.  Computers, DVD’s electronics, atomic bombs,Hiroshimaand GPS are among thousands of other things which all owe their legacy to that fateful day.  Things which may never have occurred no matter how many other scientists had considered the same questions.

There are a number of important lessons in this story.

The obvious one, of course is how a burning interest can drive our lives to great success.  Though the greater lesson here is how our smallest actions can have an influence without us ever knowing.  Albert’s father could never have imagined the impact his act of giving a compass to his son was going to have on the world.  He never lived to see computers or the atomic bomb.  Even on his deathbed, the influence of that day was still hidden from him.  And so it is, a single word or a single deed may ripple out from you across the pond of life and make a change which is far greater than the ripple itself.  It may have consequences you never dreamed or intended.  Consequences you may never understand your self.

What ripples will your actions unleash today?

How far will they spread and who will they touch without you ever knowing about it?

Choose wisely how you interact with those around you.

(Acknowledgment to K Spackman – Winners Bible)