The gift of a world
It’s heavy – that’s all I can tell at first. Slowly, carefully, I unwrap the present my great-niece has given me. It’s a small wooden box, with brass hinges and fastener, and with my name inlaid on top in green and white felt. Made it herself, she did, in woodwork class at school. Very proud of it, she is – and I’m proud of her skill, too. Not quite sure what I’ll do with it, though…
Today is the last of the ‘twelve days of Christmas’: the season of the gift. Yet there’s always much more to the gift than just the thing itself: as with every system, we pull on one part, and a whole other world turns out to be attached to it – family, culture, society, economics, relationships, responsibilities, the rest…
Which, when we scale it up all the way, brings me to this question:
— Collectively, we’ve been given a world. What should we do with it?
This has been highlighted for me several ways over the past few days. One was a reminder of the iconic ‘Earthrise’ images from the Apollo missions, such as this one from the Apollo 10 mission:
A small blue pearl, all but invisible in the greater scheme of things – and yet, apart from those few stumbling steps into the blackness of space, every moment of human history has happened there. Every hope, every fear, every drive, every empire, every fleeting ‘possession’, every fleeting life – all encapsulated in that one tiny gift of a world.
Another view on this came up for me on Christmas morning, in a brief stream of tweets from my colleague Stuart Boardman (@ArtBourbon):
- ArtBourbon: I applaud pope Franciscus 2.0: “we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”
- ArtBourbon: The world according to Milton Friedman has long been bankrupt. And was only ever an ideology.
- ArtBourbon: I don’t have to accept neo-liberal claptrap that would deny me the responsibility to choose something better.
- ArtBourbon: There are no moral absolutes. That doesn’t rob us of the right and responsibility to choose. We decide for ourselves when enough is enough.
A bit harsh in some ways, perhaps, yet overall I do strongly agree with him there. At the very least, it should be clear to everyone by now that we can’t keep on going as we are – not for much longer, at any rate. As warned about, in fact, in a well-known if variously-attributed quote:
Only when the last tree has been cut down; only when the last fish has been eaten; only when the last stream has been poisoned… only then will you realize that you cannot eat money.
Given that, one word really jumps out for me from what Stuart said in those tweets above: responsibility. That’s the other side of the gift – because to respect the gift, and the giver, we need to be responsible about it, responsible for it, responsible with it.
World as gift: what responsibilities does that imply, for each and every one of us?
For some people, it’s maybe even a matter of religion, a religious duty. And even if that means nothing to us, there’s still a human responsibility here: at the very least, we’ve been given this world by our forebears, and there’s a real sense in which we do need to respect their hopes and fears, their joys and their struggles, as they did what they could to make it ‘a better world’, as they best understood it, before passing the baton on to us. And likewise, we hold it in trust for future generations: what will they say if all we bequeath to them is a ruined world – which is where we’re headed right now?
It’s a gift, sure; but it’s not a gift in the sense of a short-term ‘possession’, a throwaway toy. Instead, it’s more a gift to all of us, from all of us: it belongs to humanity as a whole, and more, throughout all time. That responsibility does need to be remembered here – and all that that responsibility implies.
It’s a world: the gift of a world. It’s the only one we have. It’s our home. It’s also our responsibility.
And it’s also where all human enterprise takes place. Which, in turn, implies an architecture for that enterprise – a Really-Big-Picture Enterprise-Architecture, at a literally global scale. The architecture for all enterprise in that gift of a world – and, in time, maybe beyond as well. Everything: all human endeavour, and more, at every scope, every scale, every timescale, all interweaving through every person, every place, every time.
That’s what I mean by the term ‘enterprise-architecture’.
Everything less is just detail, really… 🙂
Thank you for a brave and insightful post, Tom.
Your words resonate with these, from Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States:
“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with great vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”
And, from David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett Packard:
“A group of people get together and exist as an institution that we call a company so they are able to accomplish something collectively which they could not accomplish separately. They are able to do something worthwhile – they make a contribution to society.”
If we accept the two premises — (1) that, as humans, we are here to enrich the world, and (2) that a company is a group of people accomplishing something collectively that they could not accomplish separately — then companies exist to enrich the world.
That world, as you rightly say, is a gift, and we have a responsibility to put to that gift to beneficial use.
Problems often arise when we can’t agree on the meaning of beneficial: what benefit (value), for whom, and at what cost?
Thanks for getting the New Year off to a great start.
Great quotes, Jack – many thanks indeed for those!
That question of ‘beneficial’ is what I want to tackle in my next post, being worked on as we speak… 🙂