Editor’s Desk: The Trim Tab Factor

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Our attention is most often captivated by what comes straight at us in our life: those big changes that come rumbling down the highway like a Mac truck pulling a full load. I’m more attracted to those smaller events that, when strung together like holiday lights, light up my life. I’m reminded of the words of a dear friend, author, and superb storyteller, Phil Cousineau, who quotes the Irish novelist William Trevor, reminding us to pay attention to what we see “out of the corner of our eye.”

These are the kinds of moments that awaken my curiosity and deepen my appreciation and enjoyment of life. It’s my hope that my thoughts will remind you to look for the small events that cause a slight hesitation in your step. These are the luminescent pearls that, when strung together, become the delight of life.

Each of us is blessed and shaped by our own unique aggregation of mentors, teachers, talents, and skills. I believe it is our life assignment to express these gifts. I’ve been thinking about those who have been my helpmates, those who have walked with me to help me make the widest contribution I can possibly make.

R Buckminster FullerIn the very beginning at the creation of New Dimensions Radio there was R. Buckminster Fuller, affectionately called Bucky. He was the inventor of the geodesic dome, and coined the term “Spaceship Earth.” I was privileged to be part of a small group that spent hours and hours with him as he downloaded his vision for the future and his belief that there is enough to go around for everyone. His innovative and positive vision of the future was infectious. It remains with me to this very day.

He talked about how we, as little individuals, can and do make a difference. He often used the metaphor of the trim tab factor. To understand this phenomenon, he reminded us that we live in a complex, adaptive system where everything is intricately interconnected. It is a multidimensional web of life. A small change in this vast web can, and does, affect the whole.

He asked us to imagine a large ocean-going ship. To turn this enormous vessel in a new direction one must first adjust the trim tab, a miniscule rudder that runs the length of the larger rudder; once the trim tab is turned, the larger rudder follows. In fact, there are no mechanics yet devised that could turn the large rudder against the momentum of such a massive vessel without breaking it off. Only by first applying pressure to the trim tab will the larger rudder even begin to move, thereby changing the direction of the ship.

The world is a lot like that massive vessel, and reports show that it’s heading in a dangerous direction. Day after day we hear of systems breakdowns, social injustice, environmental disasters, climate changes, political chicanery, and more. It’s tempting to pull the covers over our heads and decide the problems are too enormous for us to believe we might make a difference for the better. But if we hesitate to make some contribution, no matter how small, we are taking ourselves out of the game. Our voice will not be heard in the circle of life when we withhold our wisdom, experience, and passionate enthusiasm from wider community.

Like you, I passionately want to make a difference toward a better life for all, and I see before me a vast horizon filled with a multitude of actions that beg for my attention. The necessary changes begin to take on mythic proportions. I try to keep myself in the game by being a “trim tab.” To do this I say to myself, “I don’t have to do everything, however I need to do something no matter how small.”

– Justine Willis Toms