Opinion: Chain reaction


Clichés are among the most difficult of the English language peculiarities to master. These overused, if not hackneyed, phrases aim to communicate some truism and convey a far more complicated idea quickly and approachably. For example: Don’t cry over spilled milk. On its face, the expression reminds us to reserve our deep emotion for deserving occasions. Perhaps we could complete the adage this way: Don’t cry over spilled milk, unless you’ve spilled it on your expensive, new silk curtains.

Still, the shorthand of the bromides often are worthy of our consideration, such as:  A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. True. We’ve each heard the old saying hundreds of times. So many times, in fact, that we’ve stopped taking note. Yet, a listener new to the language would pause and consider the words. The chain – a continuous run of interconnected metal circles. Each touches the other at a single point. Yet, combined they show remarkable strength and resilience. No link has to do everything, but each must do something. Unlike a more rigid, heavier and better-constructed solid steel bar, a chain can flex, bend and reconfigure. It has dropped anchor, lifted cargo, pulled stumps and carried the pendant around our necks – each in nearly identical configuration. 

So, how can such a simple, even humble, loop — each touching no more than two of its counterparts — have done so much? And, could we form a few intentional and powerful connections with those around us? Among the many failed promises of the electronic age is that human interactions could be replaced by virtual ones. Certainly, social media amplifies the voices of a few. Still, would we be better served by a handful of real, in-person relationships with other flesh-and-blood humans? Linked together, what can we hope to accomplish? Separated from the chain, what does it matter?