Let It Snow

Is it true that no two snowflakes are alike? As is often the case, the answer depends on what you mean by the question. With 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 crystals per year, if you checked a million snowflakes per second it would take you over 31 billion years to check just a single year’s worth. So, we can never really be sure that no two are alike. However, we can determine through math the likelihood (or unlikelihood) of exact duplicates.

If you have 15 books on your shelf, how many ways can you arrange them? There are 15 choices for the first book, 14 for the second, 13 for the third, etc. Multiply 15 by 14 by 13 and so forth and you find there are over 1.3 trillion ways to arrange just 15 books. With a hundred books the number of possible arrangements goes up to just under 10158 (that’s a 1 followed by 158 zeros). Given that there are hundreds of features within a single snowflake, the number of ways to make a complex snow crystal is absolutely huge (like 1070 times larger than the total number of atoms in the entire universe!). And thus, it is unlikely that any two complex snowflakes, out of all those made over the entire history of the planet, have ever looked completely alike.

Chuck Palahniuk, in his 1996 novel Fight Club, and the 1999 film adaptation, has often been credited with coining the pejorative use of “snowflake.” Tyler Durden says, “You are not special; you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake”. This was mainly a dig related to an inflated sense of uniqueness and unwarranted sense of entitlement. However, I think people are, in fact, beautiful and completely unique, much like our snowflakes.

Even if we only consider how we look, we are all unique. The idea that everyone has a lookalike or double somewhere in the world is a very popular notion, but mostly inaccurate unless you have an identical twin. The chances of sharing just 8 featural dimensions with another person are less than 1 in a trillion. With 7.4 billion people on the planet, it would take 135 planets full of people to find a single pair of doppelgangers sharing those 8 measurements—not identical, just similar.

Add to that all the non-visible parts of ourselves and you can again see how astronomically huge the number of combinations become. It is therefore unlikely that any two humans (who are much more complex than snowflakes) out of all those who have lived in the history of the planet, have ever been completely alike.

If you look at snowflakes with the naked eye, or even under an optical microscope, many of them look the same. Likewise, we know that there are “lookalikes” in the world for many people—someone who, unless compared side-by-side, could pass for someone else. This is because our brain uses the fusiform gyrus to tie together the pieces of our “map” of how someone or something looks. It’s like looking for a country on a map by checking to see if it has a border with France and a coast. Our brain uses a holistic perception of the sum of the parts to improve recognition and make it more accurate (and quicker) than assessing features in isolation.

However, if we look closely and carefully, we find that each person is truly beautiful and unique. As leaders, part of our job is to recognize and draw out the unique qualities and attributes of those we serve. In a world where people are often lumped together and judged on a quick first pass, it shows we care when we take the time to see someone for who they are. Knowing our people enables us to help them reach their full potential and experience their best life.

Jesus was talking to his followers one day about fear. He said that we should not fear people because their power over us is actually very limited. He went on to say that God knows everything about us, even the number of hairs on our head (which in my case is not many.) His intimate knowledge of us is evidence of his love and care for us. We should pattern ourselves after this example. Knowing others and being known is an outcome of love and care.

The world can be a difficult and dangerous place. A community where we are known and cared for is protection. Leadership is responsible for demonstrating how the people in a community should care for each other. The weather outside may be frightful but being in community is delightful. The Kimray Way is to provide the place where we are each valued and become a family where we are each loved, so let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

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