Circle of influence and circle of control

Right now I am sitting on the bunk bed of my hostel typing.  My younger sister just sent me a video of some bubbling Korean young dancers, insisted

Sister, you must watch this. And do not forget to design a new profile pic for me to post in Facebook

At the same time, Millions of people are devoted to the flood disaster in Central Vietnam- where I was born.


50 meters away the Wat nearby is woken up after nap with chanting sound of monks stretching longer than usual. Nearly 60,000 people in this town have their heart put in the big Light Festival this evening. Together with outsiders like me, we are gonna be soaked in an incredible  holy, zen atmostphere.


My close friend is happy in his trip to Quan Lan island. Beach is clean, nature is inviting. He is screaming in tranquil and happiness.


All of those images come to my mind nearly at the same time. Different nuances of a big mosaic, broken pieces of an incomplete big picture. People are sad or happy depending on the extent of our concerns. I am sipping coffee, listening to music while hundreds of km away some relatives or friends of somebody I know are crying for having their house washed away in the disaster which gets worse every single year due to complex reasons.

This is just my little version of the world. There are some other people who feel much more. I will elaborate.

If right now I am having a cold, I will be lying deadly in bed, coughing, thinking about hot soup. Whatever happening in the world does not matter nor move me a little bit.

More than 1000km away, professor/ teacher Bui Van Nam Son was in a coffee talk with his student. Both are in a sad contemplative state, thinking about big questions, probably big questions related to Vietnam.


He is a pioneer in translating important philosophy books into Vietnamese and wrote his own book that can be considered Sophie’s world of Vietnam.

At an international level, anthropologists like Bill Gates are focusing on battling AIDS in South Africa.

What does all of this mean? Does that mean I should not be happy and excited for what is happening tonight? Does that mean I have obligation to care about people in Central Vietnam? In Vietnam language, we have an idiom saying

“ăn cơm nhà, vác tù và hàng tổng”

Roughly translated as “Soaking your nose in others’ business“.  This is a very shallow way of interpreting things, yet most of the time our ability to deal or affect all chaotic happening all around us is very limited.

Even though we do not live in a world of vacuum and everything is intedependent due to butterfly effect or ripple effects, our immediate acts can only influence a tiny part of it

Circle of influence and circle of control


To put it visually in a simple way, we can imagine our world as 2 circles. The big one is what happening around us, of which some are more aware than others.

But look closer, only the small circle inside is what we can influence. Right now, when I am typing this, 3 backpackers from Netherlands are coming and when they ask me wifi password, that is my immediate circle of influence.

I believe we should focus on our circle of influence but try to expand our circle of concern.

In his classic book, 7 habits of highly effective people, Stephen Covey puts it this way




Amazingly this time when I dig to read again, I realize there are so many things I missed. And this is just an easy to read book I have buried my face into many times. When things are relevant, it speaks so loudly.



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