The Great Mosaic

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Up close, it’s little more than chaos. When we’re in the thick of all the noise, buzzing around doing all those super-important tasks.

Money! Laundry! Groceries! Lawn care! Errands!

Buzz, buzz, buzzing around like bees, doing all this work on jobs that will never feel finished.

What are we doing? What are we looking at?

The Rat Race. Where so many of us are scrambling around to grab everything we can for ourselves. Mine, mine, mine.

Ever see Black Friday shoppers in a frenzy?

It’s like a frightening metaphor for how so many of us live.

It’s how I’ve often lived.


I used to think it was because I grew up as an only child. But maybe it’s just because I’m selfish.

Everywhere in nature not involving human beings, equilibrium is maintained because living organisms only consume what they need. Trees don’t soak up all the water and nutrients in the soil, depriving all other nearby plant life of what they need to live. The trees use exactly what they need to grow.

Lions hunt gazelles. After eating one, they don’t run around killing more.

But sometimes people do things like that. Needless metaphorical gazelle slaughter. We’re cruel to one another. We inflict pain. Lie to get ahead. Insult. Steal. Wound. Rape. Kill.

We do it because other people have different beliefs. Because they have different color skin. Because they live in other countries. Because they’re a different gender. Because they’re not as cool as we are. Because they’re weak.

Because we can.

I didn’t realize it, but the cultural story we all believe about ourselves is a story that’s only 10,000 years old. Humans have been around for 175,000 years. Life is 4 billion years old. So, 10,000 years is nothing. A relative blink.

We’re young. Young and stupid. Like when we were growing up, and we’d take toys from one another, and whisper secrets in the back of class about teachers and other students, or snicker in the halls at kids who knew they were being snickered at.

Up close, in the middle of all the shit, it feels chaotic and hopeless.

“There’s just so much ugly!” we say after watching the news. After driving through bad parts of towns and cities. After reading comments written by cowards on the internet.

But is there really? As a matter of percentage? If we really do the math?

I notice people holding doors open for one another. Smiling and exchanging pleasantries. Extending courtesies of all shapes and sizes.

The news doesn’t tell us about the people who donate their time and money at the local shelters and soup kitchens. Who band together to raise money for their friends’ cancer treatment. Who do immeasurable good.

The ugly gets a microphone and a video camera.

The beauty often gets ignored in the great mosaic.

We need to step back. It’s time.

Life’s Operating Manual

That’s the title of the interesting book I’m reading now. Author Tom Shadyac—an accomplished Hollywood filmmaker—asks readers to rethink many things. He asks a very thought-provoking question: Does life have an operating manual? A set of instructions, that if followed would see the world—and all its inhabitants—achieve an optimum state of being?

The gut reaction from many people—including, admittedly, me on some topics—will be to accuse Shadyac of being a dreamer. An idealist. Someone with a lot of interesting thoughts that are not necessarily executable because you could never get buy-in from enough people.

It would take a revolution.

Is this the world we want?

It would take an awakening.

Does the author ask the impossible?

I used to make fun of environmentalists.

I thought they were a bunch of namby-pamby liberal hippy morons.

When I was 21, I stood face to face with U.S. Vice President Al Gore in the summer of 2000 inside of the newsroom where I was working between my junior and senior years of college. He asked me about my career goals. I shook his hand, smiling, and answered his questions honestly, even though all of my goals have since changed.

I respected the vice president. I was polite. I try hard to treat everyone that way.

But in the back of my mind? I remember thinking his position on the environment bordered on lunacy.

This will not be a place where we spend much time discussing politics. But I do try to be transparent with you and it’s a topic I’ve mostly danced around. Intentionally.

Because I care about connecting with people. I think connecting with people is WAY more important than politics.

And political conversation, debates, arguments disconnect us.

I don’t want any part of that.

Because I respect you and want to talk to you no matter how much you agree or disagree with me. That’s the only way that makes sense to me. That’s the only way I can think of that gives us any chance of making the human experience a better one.

I have a mostly conservative and right-leaning political history. I was raised in that environment.

I’m politically moderate today. When I take those online political quizzes, I come out damn near dead center of the grid.

I’ve left behind the political ideals that stopped making sense to me based on my life experiences.

And I’ve gravitated left on some social issues, education and the environment as a result. All of those things have a very striking commonality to me.

They strike me as non-partisan issues. We politicize them so we can scream at each other on TV and radio and in internet forums and at political rallies and conventions. Our media accommodates because they like the ratings and the opportunity to help shape public opinion on editorial pages and via talking heads.

But the truth is, most sane people care about the general welfare of all people, an education system which functions effectively, and do not recklessly seek the planet’s destruction.

The vast majority of us don’t even think about it. How much has changed.

We were born into a world with highways and skyscrapers and infrastructure and where traveling the globe relatively safely are commonplace.

It’s what we know.

But not long ago, EVERYTHING was different.

Just 2,000 years ago—there were only 250 million people on the planet. Today, there are 317 million people in the United States alone, and more than 7 billion people worldwide.

It took 174,800 years of human life before there were a billion of us. It took 123 years to reach the second billion, 33 to reach the third and 15 to reach the fourth.

In about a dozen years, we’ll have 8 billion alive on earth.

The planet is filling up.

I’ll leave it to the experts and Chicken Littles to debate the health and sustainability of our planet’s natural resources. I’ll just listen to what makes sense to me and try to be part of whatever the solution is.

But I do think about all the people. As we continue to close in on one another. As our needs increase.

It’s going to become increasingly more important that we co-exist.

As the population increases, we need to make sure the beauty—the good—increases as well.

No Beginning, No End

We don’t have any hard edges. You and me. We’re mostly empty space. A whirling flock of subatomic particles dancing in the air, comingling with everything around us, including one another.

Our hearts have a measurable electromagnetic field it emits 10-15 feet from our bodies, causing our hearts to literally affect other peoples’ hearts.

At the risk of sounding like a namby-pamby liberal hippy moron, I’m really coming around to this idea of “oneness.”

That we’re all made from the same stuff.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

But not just with our planet.

But with one another.

I believe we are all intertwined. Connected.

That you are me. Sorry!

That I am you.

And that all those soft-edged particles of energy that make up our bodies, hearts, minds and souls can dance together if we can just take a step back from the chaos and see the big picture.

A change of perspective.

A step back from The Great Mosaic.

So instead of this…


We see this.


Happy Earth Day.

33 thoughts on “The Great Mosaic”

  1. “Because they can” my husband says that all the time when answering my question, “Why would they do something [stupid, boneheaded, misguided] like that?”

    1. Often, it seems, the “because I can” mentality is selfish and harms others.

      It’s unfortunate.

      But I suppose, we can flip that on its head. There’d be nothing stopping someone from “Because I can”-ing something good.

      Some good deed. Because they can.

      I’m too cynical sometimes.

      Hope you’re well, Maggie. 🙂

  2. Oh Matt. You are quickly becoming one of my most favorite writers. I fear the frenzy will never stop, until enough of us grab hold, dig our heels in, and together with our joined strength, slow this earth from spinning quite so fast. Wonderful, as usual 🙂 ~Best, Julie

    1. That is so nice of you to say. Thank you very much, Julie.

      And yes. Exactly what you describe. We can all pretend nothing’s going on and just look down at the ground in front of us.


      We can start asking where we’re going to draw the line in the sand. What separates the people I care about from the people I don’t care about?

      Where on the chain of family-friends-acquaintances-strangers like me-strangers not like me, do we finally decide to stop caring? To stop helping?

      If we decide it never makes sense to stop, then we need to change the way we think about the world and other people.

      Appreciate your time and comment very much.

  3. Great post. I like the heart electromagnetic field. As for the environment I have a similar background to you, in that I was raised conservative but am decidedly independent now, as I’ve “grown up”, even liberal in many regards (and deathly conservative in others, but all in all indy). The environment has been a passion of mine for about the last decade or so. Taking that journey has also opened me up to more self reflection and wonderment of not just the natural world but our place in that world.

    Thanks for writing this exquisite post – hopefully it will get others thinking, and more importantly acting, as well.

    One technical note, if you haven’t alread check out “biomimicry” which is a design tool that encourages us to learn from nature’s ~3.4 billion years of R&D – the point being you alluded to just that in your post – the history of life on earth lends a fair amount of perspective to our human reflection.

    Happy Earth Day!

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Chris. Just been rethinking a lot of things. Feeling like I’ve been somewhat of a mindless drone for most of my life never bothering to ask the questions: Why are we doing this? Is this really the best way? Can I be doing other things I like way more?

      Asking those questions and reprioritizing has forced me to rethink some of my political positions. However. I mostly think politics are broken so I’m not extraordinarily passionate about that process at all. But I do very much care about the ideas being kicked around. I tend to believe there’s always a better way.

  4. Just wonderful. But I’m a liberal. Really liberal. (So of course I liked it.) I also believe in diversity, which includes people who totally disagree with me, those non-lliberals, like my parents, for example. . They belong, too. We all belong. And how could our dust not become someone else’s dust, our life energy not become someone else’s when we’re done? Rock on, earth day.

    1. Thank you so much, Jen. While I’m sure we can find all kinds of things to disagree on, I love that you’re your own person and don’t merely parrot the things your parents did.

      I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with doing things like our parents. It’s sort of the design. But I do love fiercely independent people who blaze their own trails. Good for you for being one of those.

  5. Like Chris said, I too like the idea of the heart’s electromagnetic field. What a great thing to know. So many hearts out there that can change the hearts of those around them.

    1. One might say we have an even-greater responsibility to have our hearts in the right place than once believed.

    1. That’s all almost any of us do. We need to reprogram. But it’s so hard to not do things the way everyone else does. Namely because of money.

      A tricky balance.

        1. I read a thousand cliche motivational quotes or whatever every day between Twitter and Facebook and the Internet in general.

          I read one today I liked: “The problem is that you think it’s a problem.”

          I believe in infinite possibilities. I believe we all have the ability to work within the confines of our culture and economy to make a fulfilling life for ourselves.

          I’m shitty at it. But I’m trying to not be. 🙂

          1. I agree! I try everyday to follow those motivational quotes. At least you’re being honest with yourself and acknowledging the fact that you might not be so good at it. Are any of us “normal” people good at it? I know I’m not. Especially going through this divorce.

  6. We ARE all made of the same stuff. Have you not seen the periodic table? That’s it.
    That’s what we’re all made of. All the people, all the animals, all the plants…everything. It’s a fact.

    1. No I will not make out with you. Did ya hear that? This girl wants to make out with me in the middle of class. You got Chlorophyll Man up there talking about God knows what and all she can talk about is making out with me. I’m here to learn, everybody, not to make out with you. Go on with the chlorophyll.

          1. It works. I wouldn’t make out in chemistry class anyhow. It’s way too interesting for that. However I have already taken a few of them so…..

    1. Thank you. I suppose it does, when you put it that way. Appreciate the note very much. Please have a great day.

  7. Matt, this is a great post! I love it… I also really like how you describe how we should change our attitude to each other! As a marine biologist I am also pleased to hear you changed your mind in regard to the protection of the environment 😉 After this post I must say I am glad to be part of you! 😀

    1. I don’t want to make light of the environmental part of it. It strikes me as important. People who lack sensitivity to the environment do so for one of two reasons: ignorance–they’ve never thought about it before. Or money. It’s usually money.

      In some cases, the earth will take care of itself. It’s big and strong. In others, we have some say. And neglecting our home for money reasons seems totally counterintuitive.

      The part I care about most is the people part. I’m going to have to dive into that more.

      Thank you for the nice comments.

  8. I am not going to leave you my normal snark today Matt. This was a thoughtful and well written piece. You are very quickly becoming one of my favorite places to visit.

    1. I swear I replied to you earlier. No idea why it’s not here. Weird.

      Anyway. Thank you so much for saying that and for making time to come here and comment. I appreciate it very much.

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