Several years ago, I was about to remove a vine like weed from our mailbox garden area. The ‘weed’ had started to coil around our street sign. However, our youngest daughter asked, “why not leave it alone and see what happens.” Today, the downstream effect of listening to my daughter, is a street sign deeply wrapped in a web of greenery which is a conversation topic with neighbors, but also requires multiple prunes during the summer growing months.
I endured a very literal downstream consequence while kayaking the Monocacy River as I came across a gun range alongside the stream. A peaceful morning on the water became loud and unnerving. Knowing that now, I will put into the stream well below that point.
The word ‘downstream’ is used as an adverb or adjective to modify statements around timing, staging, or positioning. Something that is moving downstream is moving toward the mouth of a river, from a point further up the river. Something that is downstream is happening later or further toward the end of the process. We can apply downstream as a concept around decisions made upstream that have later effects, and possibly a cost. Downstream can also reflect a larger volume or more complete process. I kayaked the stream out of Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, NY that is the start of the Susquehanna River which flows at 120 ft³/s and I have sailed in the Chesapeake Bay where the river empties at 40,080 ft³/s – that is a 334 fold increase in volume.
Life is about choices. Our life is the downstream sum of our choices. We make multiple decisions, sometimes daily, that can result in defining us in ways that last a lifetime. I have made decisions, good and poor, that have had a significant impact on who I am today. Major decisions like marriage and having kids obviously carry significant downstream effects. But so do some smaller daily decisions. In our case, buying a camper has created less time at home for yard work and house maintenance, making the weekends we do stay home focused on upkeep. Also related to our camper, I now reference a camping travel app when determining how to get from point A to point B because Waze doesn’t point out a 10’ clearance or single lane bridge in its route guidance.
Decisions postponed to a later date can also have downstream effects. The recent Champlain Towers condo collapse in Miami can be partially attributed to owners not wanting to spend the money on maintenance or endure a major disturbance. I have been delaying a procedure to eliminate several kidney stones that lie dormant, not causing any issues. Well, a downstream effect of that indecision was a recent 4AM trip to the emergency room.
There needs to be a recognition of the relationship between process and outcomes. The relationship between the choices we make and the subsequent consequences that might not be seen for years. My Dad’s greatest gift to me and my brothers was to think downstream and break a tendency that was running through the family. He recognized that he was a link between the past and the future and owned the change that is affecting many, many lives downstream. I have made the conscious choice to invest in the next generation with my volunteer efforts. I want my efforts to pay dividends down the road. My ideas, thoughts, and actions can be my legacy. I am investing my wisdom, knowledge, insight, and experiences into others.
A ‘Live for the Moment’ approach often disregards aftereffects and can work against the longer-term play In my role managing key accounts, I need to think more strategic as opposed to transactional based. This thought process requires an enduring view of the business. When I began my new role, I was downstream of a significant order that left nothing in the customer’s budget for the next three years, some might just call that bad timing. However, being strategic, I recently structured a unique proposal for a customer that allows for future scaling and a continuous flow of business.
Eli Goldratt, developer of the Theory of Constraints and author of the management book, The Goal, introduced the concept of the ‘UDE’ – an Undesirable Effect. The UDE is an effect that occurs later in the process which will reduce or prohibit achieving the objective or goal of the system. I have experienced too much focus on UDEs such that there was ‘paralysis by analysis’ and even ‘fear of failure’ with people who had the ability to make the decision but feared being wrong and the consequences that would follow.
As Christians we have the challenge of living in man’s world while following the ways Christ asks of us and mentored for us. Our downstream essence as Christians is defined by our choices, their effects, and costs – both positive and negative. The beauty is that we know what we are supposed to do in the first place. Downstream is the opportunity to live joyfully and confidently for God. Downstream is sure to include trials and tribulations but with an overabundance of Christ’s grace. Downstream is eternal salvation.
Philippians 4:8-9 is an excellent scripture to reflect upon when considering a downstream life. Paul’s instructions touch on unity within the congregation, joy, prayer, and the Christian outlook on life. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
“When God is in it, it flows. When the flesh is in it, it’s forced.” Joyce Meyer
Let us continue to strive and pray to create a legacy downstream by being a blessing to others upstream. We all live upstream from someone and future generations. God calls us to be caretakers, not just for our own benefit, but for our neighbors. Like a river, these blessings will gather volume as it journeys downstream.