Horseshit, Toilet Paper and Hope
Updated: Jul 24
The great horse manure crisis of 1984 was the ecologic crisis to urban development at the turn of the century. London, New York and other large urban centers were dealing with millions of pounds of horse manure per day. The bigger and richer the cities became, the bigger the problem and life in the city seemed to be doomed. A publication in The Times then said: “In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure”.
Of course, not long after the solution came. The first Ford car came out of the factory in July 1903 and soon after horseshit on the streets became history.
Problems give birth to solutions if we suspend fear and overthinking, and focus on how this problem can give life to a solution. Preferably, a life-affirming one.
There is a famous exercise using toilet paper to represent geological time. To conduct it, we would be asked to roll out a roll of toilet paper which arguably consists of 1000 sheets. The Earth is 4.5 billion years old and if a standard roll of toilet paper contains 1000 sheets (each 4.5 by 4.5), that means that one sheet would represent one million years of earth history.
We can then try to cut the last piece in smaller pieces giving perspective to the fact that the last 50,000 years (1/20th of one inch) represent the history of our species, Homo sapiens, and the last 10,000 years (1/100th of an inch) is the span of recorded human history. The exercise is used to help us gain perspective of large numbers but people who have done it also experience something more profound. It teaches humbleness and perspective as far as our place on Earth and our relative insignificance.
Potentially, that could take us to a place of “nothing depends on me” but if we do that, all we do is cooperate with things the way they are. In other words, we remain stuck in the horseshit.
Systemically each one of us is made of many cells and we are also a cell into a bigger living organism. Given the fractal nature of living systems, we could be both insignificant and significant at the same time.
Living systems tend to replicate patterns that support life. Hence, we become significant and shift the system if how we show up and what we choose to activate supports life.
If we can’t move beyond fear, hopelessness, judgement, cynicism and grief, we are being held by the past. In a way, we are playing a role in preventing life and hence our role indeed becomes insignificant.
Hope and joy are capacities of the heart. Overthinking, despair and hopelessness are products of the mind.
To contribute to life, our responsibility is to reconnect to the sense of being alive and truly be present to what is now and what is possible to come. To do that we need to reconnect to hope and joy as the essence of life no matter how hopeless we may think things are.
Question: How do we remain humble enough to be aware of our own insignificance and yet courageous enough to show up in the world in a way that nurtures life?