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, and lately 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. These people have had a direct influence on me and are on whose shoulders I stand.
In 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, along with a small group of us, to spend hours and hours with him as he downloaded his vision for the future and how 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 often 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 to this I say to myself, “I don’t have to do everything, however I need to do something no matter how small.”
In more recent years an important mentor has been William McDonough, an anticipatory design architect who is looking at how we make things. I first became aware of his work when he wrote to New Dimensions and asked us if we had any interviews or audio of R. Buckminster Fuller. We sent him 139 hours of cassette tapes (some of which have since been digitized).
This started some long-standing conversations with Bill. He has mentored me in seeing the world from a design perspective, and in asking better questions. He, and his design partner Michael Braungart, have contributed to a design revolution. They propose that instead of making things that will ultimately end up in some landfill, known as a cradle to grave cycle, we should be thinking about cradle to cradle. This models human industry on nature’s processes, viewing materials as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms. His newest work is what he calls ICE (Innovation for the Circular Economy).
The central question that drives McDonough’s work is: “How can we best serve all the children of all species, for all time?”
I’ll never forget a favorite moment with Bill, which is a touchstone for me. The scene was a fine spring day, and my late husband Michael and I were standing with Bill on his front porch. Recent rains combined with the bright sun made the entire scene sparkle like diamonds. A squirrel was running across the emerald lawn, and flowers were standing in a riot of colors: goldenrod, magenta, cornflower blue, indigo, and hot pink. I needed a super-de-duper box of Crayolas to match the multitude of colors my eye was striving to take in.
The three of us were talking about Bucky Fuller. Michael quoted Bucky as saying, “Form follows function.” Bill caught his breath in a rather pregnant pause, and Michael and I could see the wheels turning in his brain. He finally said, “Form follows function; function follows evolution; and evolution follows celebration.” Bill went on to say, “It’s not about survival of the fittest. It’s about those who celebrate the most being the true evolutionary winners. Nature is all about fierce celebration.”
These are only two of the mentors who have inspired me to make my own contribution to the well-being of the planet. The list is long, including Joseph Campbell, H.H. the Dalai Lama, Dr. Haridas Chaudhuri, Patricia Sun, Gabrielle Roth, Alice Walker, and many more. They have helped me to recognize that my main talent is my innate curiosity. I cannot seem to set my tent up in any particular village no matter how hard I try. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t found treasures of wisdom along the way. There is no way I can hold back my excitement when I find another luminous nugget of insight. I credit my many mentors for bringing me these treasured nuggets of information, expansion, and delight.