Monday, February 01, 2016

Less Abstract Little Things

Minds and hearts have a capacity. At some point when stuff comes in, there just isn't space. We are constrained by our biology. There isn't enough time to listen, read, think about, digest, compare, criticize and develop on all the thoughts that humanity has collectively had. Even just chewing on a little bit of what is going on in the world is a challenge.

There seem to be two choices. Either you dive deep into a particular area and develop expertise that can then be shared with everyone else. I am scared of this option, because I think we end up being seduced by our success. Without being careful, we can end up pushing the boundaries of human thought, but being so close to the edge, no one understands us. We can end up being defined solely by our work.

The other choice is to try bring things right down to basics. Narrow your world, and leave the expertise up to others. Focus on being competent at life. Getting the simple things right. This still leaves space to choose a few things to go a little deeper into, but you need to accept that you will never be the one 'changing the world'. Instead you focus on a smaller world to change. The world of your family, friends and people in your community.

The issue I have with the second option is our communities are still bubbles. Our friends tend to be like us. Our comparisons are relative to what we see. With out the perspective of looking around the world, you can lose touch with reality. You can lose the ability to appreciate what you do have, because there will always be someone with more. There will be someone with less too, but we tend to look up rather than down.

Malcolm Gladwell, in the book The Tipping Point, talks about 'The Rule of 150'. He says, 'In order to create one contagious movement, you have to create many small movements.' When there are groups of people of 150, it is small enough for everyone to know everyone. It is also small enough to understand something of the dynamics of the other people. How they relate to each other. Once things get bigger than that, human biology kicks in. Our brains can't process it all, so we lose the nuance. We start thinking in stereotypes. Defining people by the subgroups they belong to. Putting processes in place that summarise people.


There are 7.4 billion people in the world. The problems get abstract. But if we could bring that number down to 150 that is representative of some of the demographics of the world, we can start bringing in the empathy and subtle understanding that puts the hum in humans. Each group would not cover everything, but each group would not be the same. 

Little things are less abstract. We are really good at the little things. At some point, as Gladwell says, the little things reach a tipping point and the world changes.
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