The world is smaller than you think.
Even with billions of people on the Earth, our paths are constantly crossing with people we know in unexpected places. It’s because of the many trails we leave: past friends from living in previous cities, former colleagues at old jobs, buddies from school, or activity groups. We run our lives in smaller universes than we realize. The LinkedIn / Kevin Bacon / degrees of separation game is very real.
It can be dangerous, if you forget to treat people well. More than one job applicant has been denied a position because word got around of his low performance three jobs ago, or because she made enemies who then found the ear of her hiring manager. Of course the solution to that is pretty straightforward: do a good job and don’t step on people on the way.
It can also be delightful, when coincidences lead to chance meetings. For example, my wife and I were up in Maine, hours away from home, celebrating our 17th anniversary. While huddled around a firepit making s’mores, another guest peering over the flames said to me, “Are you Jeff? Jeff Foley?” It was my former coworker Victor, whom I hadn’t seen in almost two decades. My wife burst out, “You took the very first picture of us as a couple! We framed it and had it on our piano for years!” It was true: one of the last times we saw Victor was on what was probably our third date, a going-away cruise marking an important transition for our company as it was acquired by a competitor.
These stories are always remarkable. The guy whose new boyfriend turns out to be the neighbor’s best friend. The dinner invite turned down that a couple realizes, a decade later, would have caused them to meet two years earlier than they did. The Facebook “wait, how do you two know each other?” moment in which you learn a best friend from kindergarten went to grad school with a trusted coworker. All because the world is smaller than you think.
We re-live our impact on others again and again. (Just in case any of you needed more motivation not to be an asshole.)