Life According to Four Basic Laws

by Simon Goland, October 30, 2010

Today’s Reflection is about a different set of laws to guide one through life.

I think we live a very complicated life these days, though perhaps not necessarily by choice. There are rules, laws, regulations, permits, by-laws, stop signs, and many more visible and invisible chains that supposedly enforce a proper, civilized, and respectful behaviour from us all. Order. Peace. Security. In theory, it works. Or, at least, this is what we are being told, which somehow does not explain the court houses and the prisons being filled and backlogged.

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” – Einstein

A thin veil of illusion, that is getting thinner. I wonder whether we have overcomplicated our society(ies?), and think about ways it can be made simple, logical, sustainable (as in “lasting for many generations into the future”), kind, and one that actually works for all. Now, “all” has a very broad meaning, way beyond “some of the more privileged” people. Or even just “all people.” What about other, non-human beings, who are “beings” nonetheless?

This thought was highlighted for me, when I came across what is known as the Four Laws of Ecology:

1) Everything is connected to everything else.
2) Everything must go somewhere.
3) Nature knows best.
4) There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Looking at the first Law, I realize that making decisions takes a whole new, much broader dimension when thinking about consequences. It shifts my focus from a very narrow and immediate view, into a much wider angle, expanding my awareness to include a lot more than what I normally think about. One of the exercises I often do with students, when teaching this idea, is an invitation to analyze all the factors that might impact the quality of a dinner with a friend in a restaurant. The immediate ones are obvious – table setup, light, waiter/waitress, people in nearby tables. But that’s not all; when we expand the view and step into the full(er) picture of Law #1, we see that the mood of the chef, the whole neighbourhood, the source of food – all become factors, if we but think about it.

“We are caught in an escapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” – Martin Luther King, “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”

The second Law states that there is no such thing as “away.” Simple.

The third Law tells us that change can actually be very easy, because we don’t need to reinvent any of the wheels. Mother Nature has been experimenting for about 3.8 billion years, which is a very long time, and knows what works and what does not. We only need to take a look, and then we will know how velcro works, how to paint buildings with non-toxic paint that cleans itself in the rain, how to create permanent adhesive with no toxins stronger than any crazy glue, or efficient propellers, or protein fibers that are stronger than steel cables, or any of the other myriad ideas and solutions that we keep looking for, not realizing that they exist all around us.

“Until man creates a blade of grass, he can only dream of being the master of the Universe.” – Einstein

And the last Law… well, there is always a consequence. To every thought, to every action, to every decision we make. Give the first three, we’d better think twice next time we are about to do something and think we don’t have the time to think about the ripple effects.

Perhaps a little story to end this Reflection…

In a village at the foot of the Himalayas lived a wise old man.  His advice was sought by people from miles around.

A group of boys decided one day that they would make fun of him.  They would bring a bird, hidden behind the back of one of the boys.  The boy would ask if the bird was alive or dead.  If the old man said alive, the boy would crush it to death.  If he said dead, the boy would release the bird.

So, one day, they approached the old man.  One boy came forward and asked, “What do I have in my hand?”  “A bird.” “Is it alive or dead?”  The old man looked up slowly and said, “It is in your hands.”

A sunny week to you all, inside and out.