History is paved by the choices we make.
Sometimes the effect of a choice is immense. That was certainly the case during the Liberation of Paris at the height of World War II.
You might never have heard Adolf Hitler ordered Paris’ destruction. While the decision to save Paris was a big one, we should never underestimate the effects of our choices, no matter how small.
In August 1944, two months after D-Day, Allied forces were steadily pushing the German occupiers back across the French countryside. As his armies retreated, Hitler made a decision. If he couldn’t have Paris, no one could.
Hitler told the regional German commander, Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz, to leave Paris lying in debris. While Choltitz’s troops lacked the firepower to raze all of Paris, they were plenty potent enough to turn the city’s main landmarks into rubble.
Imagine traveling to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral or the Louvre.
That mental picture was only a stone’s throw away from becoming reality.
Thankfully, rather than demolishing those beloved structures, Choltitz led history down a different path. He disobeyed Hitler, not a simple task for someone in his position, and spared Paris.
In a war that saw tens of millions of lives lost and cities such as Rotterdam, Dresden and Warsaw obliterated to their foundations, Paris easily could have been part of the casualty statistics.
Instead, one man’s judgment saved some of the most historic landmarks in the world.
The odds are you and I will never face such a far-reaching choice, but we should be careful not to undervalue the sway we do have.
No matter the situation, we can influence the events of our own lives and the lives of those around us.
Sure, we won’t directly decide the fate of a city like Paris, but choosing to give one small compliment to a friend might inspire him or her to achieve long-awaited goals.
Choosing to join a club could reveal a new hobby that becomes part of you forever.
Looking up from our phones, removing our earbuds and soaking in the world’s natural beauty might help us remember what really matters.
Some of the most important actions we take might not appear important at first glance. Seemingly innocuous choices can write history and improve lives.
In the 1970s, meteorologist Edward Lorenz proposed the scattering of air particles from something as minute as the flap of a butterfly’s wings can have an effect that magnifies as it spreads through the wind, eventually altering global weather patterns.
This idea, called the butterfly effect, suggests our modest day-to-day decisions could blossom into the most significant ones of all.
Thus, even when our days don’t include a Paris-saving decision, we should remember everything we do could matter just as much.
Look at the choices in front of you. Aim to do what’s right. Make the lives around you better.
Without ever knowing it, you might save a Paris of your own.