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Be Like Bucky

January 24, 2011 3 comments

US postal stamp honoring R. Buckminster FullerIt’s funny that Bucky Fuller famously observed that he seemed to be a verb rather than a noun.

Because it was adjectives that were foremost in my mind as I left last Friday’s performance of “R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and mystery) of the Universe” at the A.R.T. in Cambridge. Besides Brilliant, of course, Bucky struck me as…

Curious: Rather than be defeated by the sort of exile imposed upon him by near-blindness as a toddler and later by expulsion from Harvard, Fuller recognized the upside of seeing things differently. “People should think things out fresh,” he said, “and not just accept conventional terms and the conventional way of doing things.”

Playful: Bucky had an infectious sense of wonder and a generous way of inviting others into his sandbox. In the metaphor “Spaceship Earth,” for example, Fuller found a colorful and lighthearted image to jolt us into a new awareness of our shared responsibility for our tiny, exquisitely designed planet.

Compassionate: Fuller had losses and disappointments in his early career and at a particularly low point, when he was in his early 30s, he even contemplated ending his life. What brought him back from the brink of despair was his fundamental belief that “we are here for each other.” He recommitted to living the rest of his life as “an experiment to discover what the little, penniless, unknown individual might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity.”

Audacious: Bucky believed that we have the ability and the resources to solve literally all of the social, environmental, and economic problems from which humans suffer. He heralded a design science revolution in which, by observing and replicating Nature’s efficiency, we can continuously learn to do more with less, rendering scarcity and waste obsolete and making physical wellbeing available to everyone on the planet.

Inspirational: Fuller denied being an optimist, saying rather that humanity’s future is very much “touch-and-go.” Nevertheless, his philosophy was imbued with a deep faith in human capacity and the power of individual intention. His tombstone is inscribed with the phrase “Call me Trim Tab,” a reference to the tiny part of a rudder which, when moved, causes the redirection of a ship as massive as an oceanliner. He felt that it was within every individual’s power to exercise his or her option to be a trim tab.

Thomas Derrah’s exuberant portrayal of Fuller in this D.W. Jacobs production illuminates the great thinker’s tender, expansive heart while introducing us to some of the big ideas for which he’s known. Although I enjoyed learning a bit more about tetrahedrons and pattern integrity, I have to admit that it was Bucky’s way of being that stuck with me the most as I thought back on the show.

Not all of us have the intellectual wattage of a Buckminster Fuller, but we can all be curious, playful, compassionate, and audacious. We can all inspire ourselves and others by doing our part to steer Spaceship Earth on a course that works for everyone.

Adventures in Curiosity

October 25, 2010 1 comment

lily pads in Menton by Rick Schubert

What do you like best about being a tourist?

For me, it’s the plunge into a state of almost pure curiosity. As a tourist, I don’t have to know anything. In fact, it’s better that I know nothing. I just grab my map and my camera and I set out to discover. My whole frame of mind is to expect the exceptional.

And very often, as a tourist, I do come across exceptional things, such as the enormous lily pads shaped like flan pans that knocked my socks off at the Jardin Exotique Val Rahmeh in Menton, France. But just as often, I find myself bedazzled by things that might seem pretty ordinary to those who walk past them every day—an ancient olive tree for instance, a cat curled up on the steps of a church, a cobblestone street.

That’s because when I’m truly curious I look through new eyes and I open myself up to learning about even the most ordinary things.

What would it take to adopt a tourist’s curiosity about my everyday life? Maybe it will require cultivating a Beginner’s Mind, that state of emptiness and readiness that Zen Buddhists strive to maintain through rigorous daily practice. Shunryu Suzuki, a Zen master who helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the US, wrote in the prologue to his well-known book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.”

I’m wondering about the many possibilities I might discover if I took a break from being an expert on my own life and turned to face it with my camera and a map.