Food, Health, Housing, Education. Pick One.
If we pick a big goal, a high goal, a worthy goal, and then work to make a difference, then we might make some progress and avoid some of the classic pitfalls. A worthy goal, and one that is ultimately unattainable, is helpful because it can be a guide to us through the years. When there is a time of change, we can check back and see how we are doing and set out once again on our path.
Picking a goal we can attain has that problem of what do you do if you *do* attain the goal. Laurie Anderson pointed this out in one of her performance art pieces: What if you are Ahab and you get your white whale, what happens then? Well, you go down with it. This seems to be a problem with the “be happy” or “become a millionaire” approach. Furthermore, if you do not attain your attainable goal, then you might feel that you could have and you are a failure. Therefore strike out for an unattainable goal, but one that gives direction.
Danny Hillis, a mentor for me, and a student of Marvin Minsky who has been working on such a goal all his professional life: “Artificial Intelligence”, gave me the advice to strike out for the big goal rather than focus on the incremental steps. This is not to say to not work on the incremental steps, but I took the advice to mean that I should communicate with the world and with myself what I really wanted to do. For me that was building “the great library”, the “library of alexandria version 2”. This turned out to be very good advice, which I took to heart. It has guided me ever since. When I sold a company to AOL, and then left it, I was at odds. I remembered Danny’s advice, remembered my own goal from years before and struck out, once again, to build that library.
Food, Health, Housing, Education. Each of these goals need real help. Each of these areas of our lives is seen to be in trouble. Each needs long term, steady help. And, as an extra bonus, others perceive these as good goals so they are likely to help those that are striving to help.
Food. We have figured out how to have robots and servants grow our food. Neither is a good solution and we are seeing the problems now in the form of land misuse, obesity, labor and immigration issues, overfishing, and periodic food scares. We can do better than this. If people not only knew their farmers, but took active part in growing their own food, we would have a safer, healthier people and planet.
Health. Beyond healthcare, this is Health. How are we living, eating, and relating to each other. We have professionalized the health profession to such an extent that we believe our health is fully dependent on others. We “outsourced” our understanding of ourselves. To tend to our bodies, we can be living healthier lives– making sure our food, air, water, and daily activities build healthy bodies, families, and communities. There are new tricks we can use to help us monitor and compare the signals from our bodies. These tricks are a piece, but health is a broad and important barometer on well being.
Housing. Some are focusing on Energy, but if we focus on housing instead, including where and how we work, then we may get to broad solutions that save energy, time, and stress. If we pull up from the issues of how are we going to make more gasoline, and figure out how to keep people from commuting (which no one likes), or excessive business plane travel, we may have solved more problems than just energy. Housing is also related to how our families and communities work. The isolation from our friends causes the rise of such things as Facebook. Isn’t that a poor substitute for being with the people we cherish and learn from? Focusing on Housing can bring us together while helping us grow and stay young.
Education. Notice this is not “schooling.” Everyone has something to learn, everyone has something to teach– lets build lifelong systems of growth and sharing. It is natural to who we are; we just got out of the habit somewhere along the line. Lowering the bar to allow many to feel that they are full-fledged teachers. Lowering the bar so everyone can feel they are still a student. Changing the success metrics from sticks and tests and awards. Lets educate our selves, our children, our parents, our neighbors in ways that feels good and healthy.
Picking a high goal and then making a difference can help straighten our paths and give our lives a theme. If we had a generation focus on Food, Health, Housing, Education, we could have a better world for us all. If we pick one for ourselves, then others will know how to help us on our journey, and we will know what to put on our tombstone.