A thought-provoking excerpt from an encyclopedia entry on the history of Polynesia:
“On low elevation islands, where communication was unimpeded, there was no conflict. But on most high elevation islands, warring groups inhabited various districts, usually separated by mountain ridges, with carefully drawn lowland boundaries.”
Is social media creating virtual mountains between us?
How can we level the terrain and facilitate constructive communication?
The brothers grew up listening to the elders about how the stars could give lasting happiness and prosperity. Reaching them was the hard part – no one in living memory had achieved it, although there were many stories about successful attempts long ago.
The older brother believed he could reach the stars from the top of the mountain. As a bold but impatient young man he would set off for the summit on his own, despite warnings of the perils to be encountered along the way. Sure enough his efforts were thwarted by extreme weather, dangerous creatures, trips and falls – often resulting in serious injury.
These narrow escapes taught him that he must pour his whole life and soul into this pursuit, at the expense of all else. He became isolated from the community, devoting all of his time to building the skills, knowledge and strength needed to reach the top of the mountain.
Meanwhile, the younger brother had been taking a different approach. He was inspired by a story from the deep past, of a golden age when all people lived among the stars. From his many conversations with the elders he came to understand the secret of achieving this great feat – that through empathy and cooperation, the spirits of the people could lift one another up high enough to reach the stars.
This too would take a life’s work, for the heights that could be reached by the spirit of the community would always be limited to those of the lowliest dweller. Everyone had to be united in the common cause; this itself would take time, and it would then take longer to implement the changes needed to elevate the collective spirit.
Years passed as the brothers continued in their divergent pursuits, growing further and further apart.
Finally the day arrived for the older brother. He knew he was ready and the conditions were perfect. During several days and nights of exertion he slowly overcame the familiar perils of the mountain and at last approached the summit one clear evening shortly after the sun had set.
He reached up to the night’s first star and cradled it in his beaten hands. The moment he had dreamed of for so long felt different to what he had imagined. Higher up in the sky were many more stars, shining more brightly, but they were beyond reach. He looked down at the twinkling lights of the settlement and thought about the people he had turned his back upon over the years so that he could stand on the top of the mountain above them.
A warm breeze swept up from below. The lights became more intense and began swirling together. They suddenly rose skyward, rushed past the older brother and joined the bright constellations high above.
The true man is revealed in difficult times.Epictetus – Discourses, Book I, 24
If you were a multi-millionaire, how different would your life be? How would you spend your time? Would you be happier?
A bigger house, more things, perhaps early retirement. The novelty would quickly wane.
Managing an estate, even if you employed staff, would create a different type of life admin – probably just as mundane as what you had on your plate before, although that would suddenly seem trivial in comparison.
Would you sleep more easily?
Yes you could do more for good causes – at least give more in monetary terms. But does this have the same meaning and fulfilment as giving your time and effort instead?
You would probably yearn for the good old days, simpler times – and the simple pleasures of reading, thinking, writing, immersion in nature.
You’d come to realise that leisure time can easily be taken for granted if plentiful, but when it is in shorter supply it can be appreciated much more.
After the storm the birds behave differently. They start earlier, gather in greater numbers and sing in brighter and more varied tones. The musical build-up to daybreak punctuates a still calm; the street dogs shelter as the remaining rainwater drips off leaves and glassy puddles unmoved by traffic reflect a clearing sky.
Soon the baking heat will dry the earth and the cacophony of urban sprawl will hang heavy like the humid air. Heat and noise reign unchallenged for days until they are suddenly ousted by the flash and crash of the next storm, and another chance to soak in the stillness.
We are all on the brink – and perhaps we are starting to realise it.
But our response is often to brush it aside or engage in tokenism, lulling ourselves into oblivion.
Saving the planet needs more than tote bags and reusable coffee cups. And it needs more than a reliance on technological innovation. Social change may be the most important factor, but it’s also the one that scares us (and politicians) most. We cling tighter to our crutch of consumerism and our faith in capitalism, believing that somehow status quo will solve the problem.
Can we plan and implement the necessary social changes in an orderly manner, or will sudden upheaval be forced upon us by disaster?
Rome was not built in a day.
The law of entropy states that disorder will naturally increase over time. To avert this, and create order, energy is required.
Rome was not built in a day, but many great cities have been destroyed in a day.
This great upheaval, the controlled demolition of a seemingly strong building, felt like the hard part. It is not. The old edifice had structure and order but was undermined by its emptiness.
There is a clean slate underneath, but first the rubble must be cleared. High entropy – disorder – brings opportunity, but putting the pieces back together and creating a more meaningful order will require great effort.
Just as Rome was not built in a day, it certainly could not be rebuilt in a day.
Now is the time to keep an open mind. To allow for options to arise, bifurcate, dissipate.
Observe them with curiosity, engage sparingly and avoid snatching at them hastily.
Do not rush to the train tracks and the comforting shackles of familiarity and the pacifying rhythm of routine.
There is discomfort in uncertainty but also great possibilities.