Lessons in Perspective

You know how there are some crystal clear moments from your past that don’t seem to be particularly important, but nevertheless they come to mind at odd times and seemingly from nowhere?

I remember hearing that at some point in our lives each of us will breathe an atom of oxygen that was breathed by Leonardo da Vinci. It wasn’t that da Vinci breathed more oxygen than others, it was that there is a finite number of molecules of oxygen, we breathe in so many during our lifetimes, and air movements over time (as well as the life cycles of oxygen) that the odds are we have breathed at least one molecule of oxygen that was breathed by almost everyone before us.

Whoa! Pretty amazing. To think that each if us has shared atoms with virtually everone who has lived before us. And with the plants, too, because of course they are part of the cycles of life and death.

A simplification, of course, but later in my life it led me to think about the implications of finite amounts, and of limits, and it led me to a perspective I was never taught in school.

There are limits to the Earth’s resources. It does not take a great mind to understand that. And yet we act as if there were no limits.

We pollute the air. We poison the land. We contaminate the water. We destroy the forests. We have developed a species that lusts for more, more, more.

We have lost our understanding of enough.

A very smart sales manager once told me that in the course of my work in estate planning I would meet two kinds of people: those who worked for a living, and those who already had all the money they would ever spend. Most of us are in the first group. For the second group, money is not about paying the bills, or even about being extravagant – it is about power and control.

As I have written many times before in this space, money is not wealth. It is a tool to manipulate wealth. Wealth is access to clean air, pure water, and nutritious food. Wealth is having adequate clothing, safe shelter, reasonable health, satisfying companionship and meaningful occupation.

So long as money aids in the transfer of wealth between those who have access to wealth or who produce wealth, money is an effective tool, and worthwhile.

But when those who make bread no longer accept money for the bread, money becomes valueless in relationship to bread. Money only works as a tool to manipulate wealth when money can be traded for wealth.

And yet we live in a culture that worships money, and the possession of money.

And it is killing us.

Polluted air is killing us. Poisoned land is killing us. Contaminated water is killing us. Deforestation is killing us. Our lust for more, more, more is killing us.

The United States has the most overfed and undernourished population in the world, with the most expensive health care and the worst health of any “developed” nation.

We are a dying culture, and we are rushing into our death with open arms and cries of “More! More!” on our lips. Our vaunted knowledge and technology cannot “save” us. They not only do not offer us solutions, in pursuit of ever more stuff they are the core of the problem.

Isn’t it time to re-learn the lessons of history, and live within our means? Isn’t it time to learn to live in balance with the rest of the Earth: the air, the water, the land, the flora and fauna?

Isn’t it time we regained our perspective? Isn’t it time to look at the reality of our self-destruction and say, “Enough!”

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Lessons in Perspective

  1. Yes, it is well past time to say “Enough!” But, as Erich Fromm pointed out in the introduction to his book “May Man Prevail,” history overwhelming favors catastrophic vs. anticipatory change. And we are certainly well on the way to reaffirming that bleak historic reality.

    But I must say that pointing fingers (especially the middle one) in a ‘political’ way is almost always counterproductive; i.e., generates more resistance than it does understanding. Better, I’ve found, is to ‘market’ ideas rather than ‘moralize’ them. Especially given the ‘lets’ party’ mentality of the culture that’s evolved over the past 60 years.

    For example: if girls decide that guys who ride horses are sexy…watch how fast the boys will begin trading their ‘wheels’ for hoofs.

    In other words, find ways of presenting sustainability as a “desirable” step up, rather than an unavoidable step down, and you’ll be amazed at how many people will begin to find the concept attractive…despite their ignorance of any inherent moral or material imperatives.

    The old axiom is, well, axiomatic: “Candy is better than the stick.” The challenge is how to make the ‘candy’ sweet enough to effect the required change(s) quickly enough.

    Here’s a link that underscores the challenge: What He Didn’t See

    (Especially the “GMBC” film clip at the end of the article, which is well worth watching in any case.)

    And here’s another that identifies perhaps the cheapest, most powerfully malleable candy available to help achieve the desired end: Microsoft Sustainability

    (If you watch it, ignore the slick, high-rise, corporate ‘face’ of the presentation, and focus instead on the basic message; i.e., the real-time, virtual connectivity with profound educational and interactive idea-sharing implications. Especially as portrayed in the opening (school room) scene, and near the end where the fellow is working from his quiet, very pleasant ‘sustainable’ home…surrounded, of course, by a lush permaculture environment…easily meeting his living needs without needing to go anywhere…yet at the same time having instant ‘access’ to everywhere.)

    In other words, forget trying to reshape that juvenile sandbox in Washington that we call ‘government,’ and instead market a very desirable (sustainable) ‘step-up’ future, directly to the people. You’ll find that ‘government’ will be very happy to follow suit…especially when they discover the ‘media’ has left them to cover a much bigger, far more interesting story. 😉

    Just something to think about…

  2. And when the media are focused on preserving the status quo for their owners, who make their money from that same status quo, which they have built up over decades, why would yo expect them to cover anything that questions it?
    If you doubt that, look at the difference in coverage of conservative and progressive activities in the major media. Many of the former, virtually none of the latter.
    We have not, and will not, see significant coverage of these topics in our lifetimes, I think.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *