We live in a complex, adaptive system that is intricately interconnected. It’s a multidimensional web of life. A small change in this seemingly chaotic soup can and does affect the whole when it’s focused on key points.
The late anticipatory design scientist R. Buckminster Fuller often talked about the trim tab factor. To understand this phenomenon, imagine a large ocean-going ship. In order to turn this vessel in a new direction one must first adjust the trim tab, which is a miniscule rudder on the larger rudder. Only when this smaller rudder, which runs the length of the main rudder, is turned can the larger rudder follow. In fact, there are no mechanics yet devised that could turn the larger rudder against the momentum of such a massive vessel without it breaking off. Only by first applying pressure to the smaller rudder will the larger one be able to change the direction of the ship.
Taking this image out to the world at large where we hear reports of systems breakdowns, injustice, environmental disasters, climate change, political chicaneries, and more, it’s tempting to pull the covers over our heads and decide it’s all too enormous for us to believe we might make a difference for the better. But if we do this we take ourselves “out of the game.” We can no longer affect the whole; our voice is not heard in the circle of life; our wisdom, experience, and passionate enthusiasm are withheld from our community of life.
I know each of us wants to make a difference for a better life for all and we see before us a vast horizon of a multitude of actions that beg for our attention. The changes that need to happen take on mythic proportions. So, to keep myself in the game I say to myself, “I don’t have to do everything, however I need to do something.” Therefore, each and every day I do something. It might be an overt action, it might be taking good care of myself, or it might be having deep dialogues with others. I call my congressperson, write a letter, sign a petition, educate myself, have a conversation, take a walk in nature, lay down in the grass feeling the earth supporting me. Each day I do at least one action that will contribute to a better world for all.
The second way I keep myself on this path is through gratitude. If it were a pill, it would be a miracle drug. Melody Beattie, author of 52 Weeks of Conscious Contact: Meditations for Connecting With God, Self, and Others (Hazelden 2003), says, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
Gratitude is a trim tab factor. I can walk another mile when I’m grateful. I stay in the game; I’m a player on the field of life when I’m in gratitude. I walk with greater confidence, have more optimism, and live with greater health because gratitude actually affects my immune system by relaxing my physiology and allowing more oxygen into my system.
I have a small altar on the dashboard of my car. Everyday when I enter that sacred space I do a prayer of gratitude before starting the car. I say a prayer for those in need, ask for blessings on my day, and give gratitude for at least five blessings in my life. It may be for the birdsong I hear in that moment or the blooming roses in a nearby garden, or for the colleagues walking this path with me.
I encourage you to try it. Let me know how it goes for you. I’d love to have your feedback.
-Justine Willis Toms