The idea of balance has been a constant beat in my head and my heart recently. Thinking about the challenges facing our world, our communities, our families, it’s clear to me that getting aligned — regardless of our various differences and philosophies — is key to positive change and true progress. But how?
It starts with first being honest about the issues we’re collectively facing. In addition to the pandemic, there’s also climate change, systemic racism, educational and socioeconomic disparities, a struggling economy.
On a global scale, the most significant factors that affect balance in each of these important matters, in my view, are economics, population, sustainability, and education. They’re all equally important and innately interdependent, and yet we tend to address them independently — without considering the potential effects on the other three.
Take, for instance, the effect of population growth on sustainability. Over the past 50 years, the global population has more than doubled from 3.7 billion to 7.6 billion. This has created demand for materials, housing, and various other goods that supply our everyday needs.
It has also resulted in the use and disposal of so much plastic that there are now multiple garbage islands in our oceans. The largest, the Great Pacific Ocean Patch, is double the size of Texas.
So, while the population’s need for goods has fueled the economy, it has come at the expense of the health of this one precious planet we call home.
Further, without improvements in, and expansion of, education about this issue we will continue down this path.
The population is on track to continue growing substantially over the next 50 years, creating even greater demand for more supplies. More goods equals more trash, and irreversible damage. Unless we figure out how to somehow balance it all.
This example is one of many that demonstrate interconnectedness, as well as the problems that can arise when we look at these issues myopically. But what if we stopped for a moment and looked at situations like this in their entirety? What if it were as simple as considering each of these challenges in the context of a table, with each factor representing one of the legs?
For a table to be functional, its top must be level. All four legs have to be of equal height. We can’t shorten or lengthen one leg without affecting the balance as a whole. If one leg breaks, the whole table is off kilter and your dinner goes sliding onto the floor.
It’s a simple premise: Leveling all four table legs results in steady alignment.
This may seem easier said than done for these complex issues — yet there are countless examples that prove it’s possible. Consider President John F. Kennedy.
In the early 1960s, he said we would have a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Call it what you will — a pie-in-the-sky notion, a pipe dream — it seemed somewhat crazy, particularly to those who lived through the Great Depression.
Yet he organized and inspired our country to put its collective shoulder to the wheel to get things done, despite political and spiritual differences. He dedicated resources to NASA, providing the dollars, talent, and latitude to reach the goal. He let the experts, including engineers, mathematicians, project managers, and so many more, do the work on their individual pieces with the intent of bringing it all together in one whole, aligned project.
He taught us to aim for the highest goal — to literally shoot for the moon. It wasn’t accomplished overnight, but with the right expertise, attitude, and, importantly, alignment, this big ambition became a reality on July 20, 1969.
It was this same indefatigable commitment, discipline, and alignment that allowed us to split an atom; the same level of deep thinking, resources, focus, and capital that engineered the Panama Canal.
We need this same shoot-for-the-moon type of commitment to address the global issues we all face.
In our current state, however, the net production of humankind’s energy is relatively weak because we are misaligned — much like the electrons in the atoms that make up a piece of iron; though strong, it has little magnetic power. We aren’t marching in alignment, we have no common cause, we have minimal magnetic pull.
Our global energies are working in a random fashion against each other: We spend most of our time and effort canceling out one another’s work.[callout]“Individual problems can be solved with bigger-picture solutions that offer improvement and forward motion for all.”[/callout]
Rather than behaving like iron, we need to act more like supermagnets, in which the atoms’ electrons are precisely aligned.
For the sake of future generations, all creatures, and our planet, we need to organize under a common, clear vision — one that’s devised by the experts in their respective fields who best understand the complex interplay of the four legs.
If all 7.6 billion of us can align, we’ll have the collective power to solve complex problems, including saving our planet.
It’s alignment — working cooperatively and communicating clearly — that empowers Navy SEALs to accomplish the unthinkable.
It’s alignment — with callouts from the coxswain for each synchronized, strong stroke — that enables a crew team to row toward the finish line at record speed.
It’s alignment that can also raise the table to an even level, strengthening us for the future.
It’s time to work together on key issues with consideration of the unique roles that economics, population, sustainability, and education each play. It’s time to let the best minds and hearts take a seat at the table.
It’s there that relationships can be created, conversations can be focused and efficient, collaborative plans can be made, and balance and function can be restored. Individual problems can be solved with bigger-picture solutions that offer improvement and forward motion for all.
Aligned in our humanity, we will move toward a thriving existence and create a healthier, more balanced, more peaceful world for future generations.
So how do we actually make meaningful progress toward solving some of the greatest challenges we collectively face? Just as JFK approached putting a man on the moon, I believe we need a NASA-like organization that is aligned in its vision, objectives, goals, and plans. This would require the following:
Dedicated experts in the fields of economics, population, sustainability, and education from around the globe who understand not only their area of focus, but how it affects the others.
International funding because the issues at hand are global in nature.
Autonomy to focus and do the work. These problems cannot, should not, and will not be solved by lobbyists and politicians. Specialists and experts need to be free to innovate, experiment, and develop solutions that are not influenced by outside interests.
Collaborative solutions that consider all four legs, especially the often-overlooked aspect of education.
Balance — the ultimate benchmark. The work always needs to be focused on doing good without creating disadvantages or problems in other areas.
For instance, if we want to resolve the garbage-island issue, we need to take a closer look at the plastic industry. If plastic is phased out, jobs in that sector may be lost over time — but what jobs could be created to replace them and help keep the economy steady? With education, those workers can be trained in a new skillset or trade that meets the needs of a more sustainable, planet-friendly solution.