I recently was part of a discussion with like-minded work colleagues regarding the place and role of community building within the context of a landowner. As we discussed the associative responsibilities of this role one of my colleagues shared an analogy that I immediately gravitated towards. He presented the idea that community building needed to better follow natural laws in order to function in cooperation, rather than competition, with nature. He used the analogy of cell growth in a healthy, living organism. A healthy cell will only expand to a point of sustainability – taking only what it needs.
He then made the comparison of unhealthy cell growth and its parallel to community building. Without giving away the punchline too prematurely in the comparison to the parallel my colleague made, I first want to share a quote from a book called Life’s Operating Manual that immediately came to mind when the unhealthy cell comparison was made:
“Life, or nature, began on this planet some four billion years ago. In those four billion years, a law has become evident that is immutable and true; in fact, all biological systems that thrive in the long run obey this law; all systems that violate this law will eventually die off. Here’s the law: nothing in nature takes more than it needs…
“Contrary to what we have been taught, cooperation, not competition, is the ruling order of nature…
“Tragically, mankind, with our unchecked appetite for more, violates this law every day. We are encouraged and even rewarded for taking as much as we can, a philosophy that has had catastrophic consequences…
“Ironically, we understand well just how deadly an organism can be that grows without limits. In fact, we have a term for cells in the body that take more than their share – we call those cells cancer. And if we persist in this unchecked behavior, we will inevitably succumb to the same fate of all cancerous cells: we die off.”
The principle to be understood in framing the discussion I had with my colleagues is this – natural laws associated with the “operating system” of this earth require balance. One should only take what one needs - and no more. When nature doesn't follow the law of balance, the system breaks and eventually will die – cancer being the example identified in the quote as well as the example used by my work colleague.
Human beings, on the other hand, do not follow this law as the quote above eludes. We are at a severe imbalance in the way we operate within the natural systems that we should instead be cognizant of and subject to. Human beings have the ability (because of free will) to act outside of natural laws, especially in the present, where technology has reached a point that we aren't as reliant on or accountable to keeping nature’s laws for purposes of survival. We have collectively learned to work outside nature's operating system, and have been rigorously doing so for almost a hundred years.
What jumped out at me when my colleague made this parallel comparison was the tie back to community building. Enough study and analysis has been conducted to be able to indisputably identify that current development practices are as far from the natural law of balance as one can get. We are presently taking far more than we need, putting us in direct competition with nature. By definition, this would mean that our current practices (popularly referred to as sprawl) are directly equated to cancer. One widely accepted definition of sprawl is the consumption of land (through development) at a level that exceeds population growth – sound familiar?
Human beings are the author of the sprawl “operating system” which emits cancerous outcomes. This correlation led to a remembrance of a scene from the movie The Matrix, which paints another picture of a destructive natural corollary:
“I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals.”
“Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment. But you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area.”
“There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease…A cancer of this planet. You are a plague... And we are the cure.”
In order for communities to function and work effectively they must be planned and designed in a manner that is consistent with the laws exhibited by nature. When this occurs, cooperation with nature is better achieved and competition with is minimized or eliminated. Human beings are a part of the natural world and must act in accordance with that understanding. Our collective survival, as a human family, is dependent upon this. As much as we may want or try to disconnect from this relationship we are merely burying our figurative heads in the sand.
Nature teaches us all that we need to know in order to build communities that will respect natural laws, while also enhancing the lives of those who live within them. It really falls on us collectively to make this happen. Author Henry Miller emphasized this relationship very well when he wrote:
“The world is not to be put in order; the world is in order.
It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order.”