at Work:

A Personal
and Public
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Open Space

Michael Herman

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 Critical Path


At age 31, R. Buckminster (Bucky) Fuller found himself penniless (with a wife and small child to support) after he had lost all of his and a good deal of others' money in a failed business. Reflecting on his experiences, he discovered that he had been happy, effective and prosperous in direct relation to the number of people in whose interest he was working at any given moment.

Maximum happiness, effectivness and prosperity, he reasoned, could only be achieved by working for ALL people, everywhere. A true scientist, he made the rest of his life an explicitly documented, public experiment designed to test this hypothesis, and seems to have done very well, indeed.

He is probably best known for his geodesic domes, but he also invented all kinds of other things that do more with less. His goal was nothing less than the total eradication of scarcity (and the conflicts created by the politics of scarcity) on this small planet, which he dubbed 'Spaceship Earth.' A true visionary, he once said, "I just invent things and then wait for humanity to discover the need for them."

The author of numerous books and articles in his lifetime, and countless patents and technical designs, he offers this in the opening of his last book, titled Critical Path. Sometimes the challenge of writing an invitation, trying to discover just what it is that we really want to happen, approaches the poet's challenge.



We all see things differently. Seeing is sensing. Hearing is sensing. Touching is sensing. Smelling is sensing. What each of us happens to sense is different. And our different senses are differently effective under ever-differing circumstances. Our individual brains coordinatingly integrate all the ever-different faculties. The integrated product of our multifold individual sensings produces awareness. Only through our sensings are we aware of the complementary "otherness."

Awareness of the "otherness" is information. The complex of successively experienced informations produces interweaving episodes -- and the complex of special-case-episode-interweavings produces the scenario that our brain's memory banks identify as our individual being's "life."

The way only-our-own, individual integrity of being responds spontaneously only to our own exclusive sensing of any given otherness episode is what I mean when I use the word feeling: How do I feel about life? How do I feel about it now? ...and again now? Our feelings often change. What do I feel that I need to do about what I am feeling?

One of the many wonderful human beings that I've known who has affected other human beings in a markedly inspiring degree was e.e. cummings, the poet.

He wrote a piece called "A Poet's Advice," which I feel elucidates why "little I," fifty-three years ago at age thirty-two, jettisoned all that I had ever been taught to believe and proceeded thereafter to reason and act only on the basis of direct personal experience. Cumming's poem also explains why, acting entirely on my own initiative, I sought to discover what, if anything, can be effectively accomplished by a penniless, unknown individual -- operating only on behalf of all humanity -- in attempting to produce sustainingly favorable physical and metaphysical advancement of the integrity of all human life on our planet, which omnihuman advantaging task, attemptable by the individual, is inherently impossible of accomplishment by any nation, private enterprise, religion or other multipeopled, bias-fostering combination thereof.



A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words.
This may sound easy, but it isn't.
A lot of people think or believe or know they feel -- but that's thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling -- not knowing or believing or thinking.
Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you're a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you're nobody-but-yourself.
To be nobody-but-yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn't a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time -- and whenver we do it, we are not poets.
If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you've written one line of one poem, you'll be very lucky indeed.
And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world -- unless you're not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.
Does this sound dismal? It isn't.
It's the most wonderful life on earth.
Or so I feel.
-- e. e. cummings



Fuller also offers the following, as if to remind us that writer's block is no longer an excuse -- or even an option. Can you imagine getting such a letter as a ten-year-old? ...and so good that we've still got some time left to work...



Each year I receive and answer many hundreds of unsolicited letters from youth anxious to know what the little individual can do. One such letter from a young man named Michael -- who is ten years old -- asks whether I am a "doer or a thinker." Although I never "tell" anyone what to do, I feel it quite relevant at this point to quote my letter to him explaining what I have been trying to do in the years since my adoption of my 1927-inaugurated self-disciplinary resolves. The letter, dated February 16, 1970, reads:

Dear Michael,

Thank you very much for your recent letter concerning "thinkers and doers."

The things to do are: the things that need doing: that you see need to be done, and no one else seems to see need to be done. Then you will conceive your own way of doing that which needs to be done -- that no one else has told you to do or how to do it. This will bring out the real you that often gets buried inside a character that has acquired a superficial array of behaviors induced or imposed by others on the individual.

Try making experiments of anything you conceive and are intensely interested in. Don't be disappointed if something doesn't work. That is what you want to know -- the truth about everything -- and then the truth about combinations of things. Some combinations have such logic and integrity that they can work coherently despite non-working elements embraced by their system.

Whenever you come to a word with which you are not familiar, find it in the dictionary and write a sentence which uses that new word. Words are tools -- and once you have learned how to use a tool you will never forget it. Just looking for the meaning of the word is not enough. If your vocabulary is comprehensive, you can comprehend both fine and large patterns of experience.

You have what is most important in life -- initiative. Because of it, you wrote to me. I am answering to the best of my capability. You will find the world responding to your earnest initiative.

Sincerely yours,

Buckminster Fuller


The political and economic systems and the political and economic leaders of humanity are not in final examination; it is the integrity of each individual human that is in final examination. On personal integrity hangs humanity's fate. You can deceive others, you can deceive your brain-self, but you can't deceive your mind-self -- for mind deals only in the discovery of truth and the interrelationship of all the truths. The cosmic laws with which mind deals are noncorruptible.

Cosmic evolution is omniscient God comprehensively articulate.


From Critcial Path by R. Buckminster Fuller. © 1981 by R. Buckminster Fuller. Published by St. Martin's Press, New York.

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Evolution at Work: A Personal Journey and Public Invitation to Open Space, by Michael Herman (www.michaelherman.com)
© Copyright 1998-2002 Michael Herman. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reprint or distribute without permission and full attribution, including web address and copyright notice. Permission will be granted gladly if you'll just say what you'd like to copy and where you'd like to share it. [email protected]