The Difference People Can Make in Your Life

Two powerful examples of how folks can make a real difference in a life:

It is quite remarkable just how much of an influence and impact others can have on you – for good or ill. And it is equally interesting how much we can impact others – for good or ill. Often how we grow and develop in life is strongly impacted by others. It can often be our parents of course, but it could be someone else: a teacher. or even a casual acquaintance.

I want to speak to this a bit further by looking at two things: one example of this in my own life when I was quite young, and one very famous person in history, and two remarkably different lineages that arose out of that person and another. Let me begin with myself.

Case study 1: my story

Something popped into my head today and I am not sure how or why it did. For what it is worth, I have hardly any memories of my childhood. I can recall next to nothing of what my life was like when growing up. And if I do recall things, they are usually quite sad things. I am not quite sure why this is either.

Someone I knew who was a Christian counsellor once said to me that I was an “emotional flatliner”. That is, I had hardly any emotional memories of events that I could hang on to. Being overwhelmingly a cerebral kinda guy from very early on, feelings were not a big part of my life, so I had no recall of either good or bad things that had a big emotional impact on me.

But back to what popped into my head. I used to have a speech impediment when I was young. I had real trouble pronouncing my Rs. I recall once in class they had this newfangled thing – a personal tape recorder. So each student recorded himself reading something he had written.

For some reason I recall what it is I had penned: “Surfing in Hawaii.” But when it was played back to me, I was quite shocked and embarrassed to hear myself. What kept coming out, over and over again – since it was the key word in my talk – was “sophing”! My whole talk ended up being about “Sophing in Hawaii.” I felt so embarrassed and terrible for quite a long time after that experience.

However, the primary school I was in did have a speech therapist who helped kids like me. Some other kids had other issues, such as a lisp, when they could not properly pronounce S but came out with a th sound. But Rs were my big problem. I actually ended up having two speech therapists try to help me back then. And they were quite different in how they dealt with me and the impact they had.

I am not sure how long I was with the first gal. I do not recall if I had a half hour a week with her, but it was likely something like that. But after some time when clearly no progress was being made, she got angry and impatient with me, and if I recall correctly, one day she just told me rather irately to leave and never come back.

Hmm. Since for so much of my life at that point I had such a poor self-image anyway, this was just more of the same. So I stopped going to those classes, and nothing changed for me, speech wise that is. Sometime later however a new speech therapist came to the school. She might have been younger if I remember correctly – and certainly nicer.

So I was soon going back to those sessions. Early on I also recall this: one “hood” (as we called them back then) or bully type once saw me heading to my class. (As an aside, he was from a broken, mother-only household, as almost every single one of these sorts of characters tended to be back then – and often still are today, as the research even shows. But I digress.)

As I was going to my speech session, he called out in a smart-alecky and condescending way, “Hey speech boy!” The new speech therapist happened to be walking by and heard that, and she quickly leapt to my defence, explaining that this was a real issue I was working on. She might even have had him come along to that session as well.

Long story short, it did not take many sessions at all before she put the finger on my problem. It was something about placing my tongue in a certain position in the side of my mouth that would make all the difference. And it worked! Soon I could speak about ‘surfing’. I could say ‘train’ instead of ‘twain’. I could speak of things being ‘hard’ and not ‘hod’. Soon enough I no longer needed to go to speech class.

The woman had taken a real interest in me, was concerned about me, and pinpointed what I needed to fix the speech defect I had. She stood in marked contrast in other words to the first woman who seemed to have had no such care for me, and simply tired of me and wanted me no more. As I say, the difference a person can make in your life…

Case study 2: Jonathan Edwards

My personal story was pretty innocuous and ordinary in comparison to my second example. It involves the famous American preacher, educator and revivalist Jonathan Edwards. It also tells us of the great influence and impact someone can have on others – for good or ill. In this case it involves parents.

The story has been told at various times. This version is titled “Multigenerational Legacies – The Story of Jonathan Edwards” and is offered by Larry Ballard. I offer it here in full:

Jonathan Edwards was a Puritan Preacher in the 1700s. He was one of the most respected preachers in his day. He attended Yale at the age of thirteen and later went on to become the president of Princeton college. He married his wife Sara in 1727 and they were blessed with eleven children. Every night when Mr. Edwards was home, he would spend an hour conversing with his family and then praying a blessing over each child. Jonathan and his wife Sarah passed on a great, godly legacy to their eleven children.


An American educator, A.E. Winship decided to trace the descendants of Jonathan Edwards almost 150 years after his death. His findings are remarkable, especially when compared to another man from the same time period known as Max Jukes.


Jonathan Edwards’ legacy includes: 1 U.S. Vice-President, 1 Dean of a law school, 1 dean of a medical school, 3 U.S. Senators, 3 governors, 3 mayors, 13 college presidents, 30 judges, 60 doctors, 65 professors, 75 Military officers, 80 public office holders, 100 lawyers, 100 clergymen, and 285 college graduates.


How may this be explained? Edwards was a godly man, but he was also hard working, intelligent and moral. Furthermore, Winship states, “Much of the capacity and talent, intensity and character of the more than 1,400 of Edwards’ family is due to Mrs. Edwards.”


Max Jukes’ legacy came to people’s attention when the family trees of 42 different men in the New York prison system were traced back to him. He lived in New York at about the same period as Edwards. The Jukes family originally was studied by sociologist Richard L. Dugdale in 1877.


Jukes’ descendants included: 7 murderers, 60 thieves, 190 prostitutes, 150 other convicts, 310 paupers, and 440 who were physically wrecked by addiction to alcohol. Of the 1,200 descendants that were studied, 300 died prematurely.


These contrasting legacies provide an example of what some call the five-generation rule. “How a parent raises their child — the love they give, the values they teach, the emotional environment they offer, the education they provide — influences not only their children but the four generations to follow, either for good or evil.” What a challenging thought! If someone studied your descendants four generations later, what would you want them to discover? Do you want an Edwards’ legacy or a Jukes’ legacy? The life you live will determine the legacy you leave!

So there you have two examples – out of millions – of how people can have a positive or negative impact on you and others. And the reverse is also true: you and I can have a negative or positive impact on others as well. So be careful with how you live your life, and even in the words you speak – especially to young people.

No child should have to hear the words, ‘Get out of here and never come back.’ All children should hear the words, ‘You are doing great. You are a champion. We love you and care about you.’

[1472 words]

4 Replies to “The Difference People Can Make in Your Life”

  1. How beautiful and how fitting….Bill.

    The man I married is kind, gentle and loving.
    Unfortunately, the fiasco of progressive politics and the ridiculousness of the last 3 yrs has changed him for the worst…..
    Praise the Lord – Our kids are mainly demonstratng ALL the positive attributes.

    Hubby’s brother, whose funeral we arranged this week in Canada, physically bristled with anger, fought in bars and was brutal in his speech to anyone who opposed him.
    HOWEVER, the Love of JESUS from a triangle of Godly women across the globe in the last 7 years leaves me with no doubt, my darling brother-in-law Neil, was walked home by Jesus to Our MIGHTY Father in Heaven.

  2. One of your most encouraging, uplifting and easily read essays, Bill. Quite a challenge to us all to look at how we relate to people and seek to leave five generations of achievers and contributors to society among our descendants.

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