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How to make a difference according to me and National Geographic

June 22, 2007

This morning, I was delighted to come across scientific support for my belief that change happens at the level of the individual. 

While reading an article called “Swarm Theory” in National Geographic over breakfast, I came across the following passage:

“Such thoughts underline an important truth about collective intelligence:  Crowds tend to be wise only if individual members act responsibly and make their own decisions.  A group won’t be smart if its members imitate one another, slavishly follow fads, or wait for someone to tell them what to do.  When a group is being intelligent, whether it’s made up of ants or attorneys, it relies on its members to do their own part.  For those of us who sometimes wonder if it’s really worth recycling that extra bottle to lighten our impact on the planet, the bottom line is that our actions matter, even if we don’t see how.

“Think about a honeybee as she walks around inside the hive.  If a cold wind hits the hive, she’ll shiver to generate heat and, in the process, help to warm the nearby brood.  She has no idea that hundreds of workers in other parts of the hive are doing the same thing at the same time to the benefit of the next generation.

“‘A honeybee never sees the big picture any more than you or I do,’ says Thomas Seeley, the bee expert.  ‘None of us knows what society as a whole needs, but we look around and say, oh, they need someone to volunteer at school, or mow the church lawn, or help in a political campaign.’

“If you’re looking for a role model in a world of complexity, you could do worse than to imitate a bee.”

(National Geographic – July 2007)

In fact, this passage served as the conclusion to the article, hitting home yet another example of just how much humans could benefit by imitating nature.  [Another excellent example of how humans could benefit from nature is laid out in the book Cradle to Cradle, in which an architect and a chemist explain how human society–and the planet–would benefit extraordinarily if everything humans created could ultimately be reused for something else when it was no longer needed for its original purpose, thereby eliminating waste.  They give the example of a cherry tree, whose blossoms are produced in great excess (the tree only needs one of thousands of seeds to implant itself in the ground in order to propogate) yet do not create pollution–instead, the tree’s “waste” is a source of food for birds and a source of nutrients for the surrounding soil.  Imagine if the waste humans created could do the same…]

So reduce, reuse, and recycle away, my fellow readers, because our job as individuals is to be responsible for our immediate surroundings.  Our impact may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but it’s essential to the functioning of a healthy population and a healthy planet.

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