Challenging Newton

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Sir Isaac Newton


This is Newton’s third law of motion. It was introduced in 1686. The scientific explanation and the “nuts and bolts” of the law are way beyond my capacity, but I get the concept. For example, the propeller of a boat motor sends water backward, moving the boat forward.

Although Newton’s law applies to objects, I think you can make a comparison to people. Let’s talk about it in terms of leadership. Remember, this is not just for “bosses.” This applies to any situation when you influence someone else. The action of the leader influences the reaction of their people. Here are some thoughts on that:

1.      If you don’t respect the leader, it doesn’t matter what his or her action is: Have you ever been around a leader you didn’t like, trust or respect? In that situation, it might not matter what he or she says. Your reaction to that person’s actions are usually negative. It’s an “opposite reaction.” Opposite reactions work positively for objects, but not for people.

2.      If you respect the leader and you don’t agree with his or her action: Think about cheerleaders at a sporting event. Their role is to inspire the crowd to cheer their team on to victory. If they began a cheer of “OUR TEAM STINKS,” I imagine that not many fans would join in. The same thing is true in work situations where the leader is well-liked and respected, but his or her action doesn’t resonate well with the team. They will either not take any action at all or rebel against what the leader is doing. This is a tough way for a group to move forward. As illustrated above, it’s an “opposite reaction” that works well for objects, but not for people.

3.      If you respect the leader and you agree with his or her action: Go back to the sporting event example for a minute. If the band begins playing the team’s fight song, the crowd usually comes to its feet and begins to clap and sing along. The same holds true in work situations where the leader is respected and takes action that inspires the team. This is a case of an action causing a positive reaction. Two things taking the same action is the exact opposite of Newton’s third law, so it’s impossible for objects. However, it’s great if you’re trying to influence people to take a particular action!

Think about the places in your life where you influence others. If you’re struggling to get them to do what you need them to do, look at the first two situations above. Do they trust you? If not, what can you do to establish it with them? If they do trust you, what about your action is causing them to react negatively? Your goal is to be a trusted leader taking positive actions that inspire your people to do the same.

A great way to think about things like this is in silence. I’ve written a book that helps you slow down and think. The title of the book is “Moments of Silence: 52 Exercises for the Christian Mind, Body and Soul.” Click here to check it out and buy a copy.

Kevin JurekComment