In order to try to save trees and do a little bit toward helping the environment, I try to do a couple of things: I try to print double-sided (saving paper) and I try to re-use bits of paper on which I have only printed on one side (using them as scrap paper).
I started the double-sided printing a while ago, but I had started the reusing single side-printed paper as scrap a while before I found out how to make my printer print on both sides. This meant that I have had a modest stock of single-sided paper to use as scrap.
However, recently I reached for a piece of scrap paper and found that I had more or less exhausted my stock of scrap paper.
It wasn’t so much that I had used it more frequently as that my double-sided printing had reduced the amount of paper available for scrap. I hadn’t expected that side effect.
In the end, I had to use a pristine piece of paper to write on. It felt wrong (recycling-wise), and at the same time there was something lovely about writing on a clean piece of paper with a nice fountain pen.
So often there are unexpected consequences to our well-intended actions.
You stop your car to let someone pull out in front of you, and someone behind you gets angry that their journey is delayed.
You make a phone call on your mobile while on the train to let someone know you are thinking of them in a time of difficulty, and someone else on the train is upset that they have to listen to one side of your conversation.
You walk to the shops rather than driving in order to keep fit and reduce pollution. The journey takes longer than anticipated, and you miss an important phone call at home.
You perform a magic trick on stage to entertain an audience and make a 4-year-old girl cry because her granny was the one sprayed with Silly String at the end. Yes, to my shame, I really did that!
You get the idea.
The unintended and unexpected consequences do not make our original actions wrong. They do not mean that we should not have done those things.
But we need to remember that we do not exist inside a bubble; we live in a society with lots of other people.
Perhaps we should think more widely about our impact on other people. Who else is impacted by our actions?
And while we are contemplating that, are there ways in which we can expand the positive scope of our actions?
That’s one of the questions that led to the establishing of the Fairtrade Foundation to enable people to buy goods that will more directly benefit the producers as well as the vendor and purchaser.
Another way is by seeking to reciprocate and pass on the positive impact when we are the beneficiary.
For example, it blesses me no end if, after I have let a car pull out in front of me in a line of traffic, the person I let pull out does the same for someone else further along the road.
Can you imagine the impact on our society if we all acted in that way, rather than in self-centered and selfish ways?
Not just letting people pull out in front of us, but everyone seeking to bless others. In the Bible, there are lots of ways in which we can do that for one another.
For example, Hebrews 10:24 urges, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
Is this also part of what Jesus meant by us being “salt and light” in our communities – adding savor and enhancing the brightness so that people “may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”? (Matthew 5:16).
Nick Lear is a regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in the United Kingdom. A longer version of this article first appeared on his blog, Nukelear Fishing, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @NickLear.