24 February 2008


i was struck when i came across a brief set of principles, self-evident after you think about them, which can be applied to any aspect of life, be it work, play, a relationship, a hobby, or learning a new skill. they are:

~ competence. the minimum acceptable for anyone who thinks and acts in accordance with the philosophical concept of Quality.

~ excellence. a state which some achieve, after considerable effort and exercise of talent.

~ mastery. something few seek, and fewer attain.

it seems to me that we (myself included) often see ourselves as having reached a higher state of achievement or awareness, than we actually have. this may be a normal human propensity, but it's not particularly adaptive to our surviving and thriving, as individuals or as a species. a little humility goes a long way in restoring a clearer view of self. sometimes it takes a 2 X 4 upside the head to achieve that clarity, that humility.

in ecology and genetics, "fitness" isn't a measure of physical strength or speed or ferocity. it is a description of an organism's ability to survive long enough to pass its genes on to viable offspring. so survival of the fittest has nothing to do with "nature, red in tooth and claw", i.e. some gladiatorial contest with the winner taking the spoils. it is about adapting to the environment, thriving, and reproducing to pass on those traits which enhance survival -- possibly speed or strength or ferocity, but equally possibly the ability to imagine, to conceptualize, to think ahead to good or bad consequences of a choice. or to form ethical guidelines for behavior, whether alone or with others.

footnote: i'm reading one of the seminal books of my lifetime, and cannot recommend it highly enough to every reader: With Speed And Violence, by fred pearce, subtitled "why scientists fear tipping points in climate change." it is a cogent and compelling exploration of earth systems, easy to understand, documented by extensive research, disturbing in its implications for our grandchildren, our children, perhaps even for ourselves. we've been conveniently living outside the guidelines imposed on planet stewards, and it may already be too late to assume the mantle of responsibility. but we must try.

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