Every Contact Leaves a Trace

At an excellent, and rather surprising, clergy training day I recently attended, I was made aware of Locard’s principle. Never heard of it? Nor had I, but every police drama we’ve ever watched will probably have made use of it, because it underpins all forensic science. Locard’s Principle came from Dr Edmond Locard who was known as the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Lyon’, and who asserted the perpetrator of a crime always brings something to the crime scene and leaves with something from it: “Every contact leaves a trace”.

Now, my priests’ training day was not preparing us for a life of crime, nor persuading us to seek a change of career in the police force. Instead we were being shown a way I believe all of us can view life.

Looking at our world it is hard not to feel powerless and helpless. There are such overwhelming horrors coming from so many places and such immense problems our world is facing. What can any one person do?

Rather than succumbing to hopelessness, we could all adopt Locard’s principle. Everything I do today, every conversation I have, every email I write, every penny I spend or give away – all of it changes something. All of it leaves a mark on our world, however slight. Someone else will be affected by everything I do. We may often never know what difference we have made, but that doesn’t change the fact that we will have left our fingerprints or footprints behind us.

Of course, the key issue is what kind of traces we are leaving – whether our interactions leave people sadder, angrier or more resentful, or whether others are left comforted, encouraged or more hopeful. Every contact of mine leaves a trace – this should determine how we begin any conversation, enter any on-line debate, engage socially and politically, or simply go about our daily lives.

It all reminds me of an old, but thought-provoking quote: ‘If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?’ I hope, and pray that, at my best, my fingerprints and footprints would give those forensic scientists a field day!

Revd Kate McFarlane