Steering the Ship- Small Changes can have Big Effects

April 4, 2019
Steering the Ship Small Changes can have Big Effects


Have you ever piloted a cruise ship? Probably not… and if you have, want to be friends?

Cruise ships are big, powerful, they travel long distances, but they’re hard to steer.

Once they get moving, they’re hard to stop.

Why am I writing about steering a cruise ship?

Because in some way, getting a cruise ship to change course is like changing society.

These days, we're aware of how our actions affect the world in a way that previous generations weren't. We can watch, in real-time, the impacts of war, poverty, disease, and environmental destruction.

As we watch these things, it may seem almost impossible to change the course that we're on. Like a cruise ship, in a way.

So let's imagine that we're all on a ship, sailing along year after year. We go here and there depending on where people on board want to go. If everybody likes the left, the ship turns left. If everybody prefers the right, the ship turns right.

As long as we're traveling over open water there's not much to worry about.

On our imaginary cruise ship, voting whether to go left or right has become like a game. It's the subject of endless arguments. Many people even consider it entertainment.

Factions have developed. One group always supports the right. The other always supports the left. Almost like it's their identity. Lately, the ship has been only moving dead-straight. Neither the supporters of the right nor the left will give an inch. But up ahead, there's something new on the horizon. Reports are coming in from the control room, from their long-range sensors. Looks like we might be heading towards some icebergs.

Heading towards some iceberg

Unfortunately, the iceberg issue quickly becomes 'factionalized'. One group denies the likelihood of icebergs. The other group tries to prove that icebergs exist. Talking about icebergs usually results in arguments.

Meanwhile, the folks at the bow of the ship, who tend to look out ahead, have noticed something looming on the horizon. It's hard to see with the naked eye but there's something there.

Those folks have started spreading the word: we need to change course.

Change course

Now any reasonable person might be thinking: won't the captain and crew steer the ship out of the way?

In an ideal world, you'd be right.

But, on our ship, the captain and crew are elected by the factions. Changing direction is a very sensitive issue and the captain and crew won't keep their jobs for long if they go choosing right or left without approval. So the folks who see those icebergs have to find a different way to change course. But if you can't turn the rudder, what hope do you have of steering a 100,000-ton ship?

It turns out that people, in a collective movement, can create really powerful momentum. If enough people head to one side of the boat it will tilt and turn in that direction. So our group of forward-thinking folks tries to gather as many people as they can and turn the ship.

Will they be successful?

In the end, it will depend on their ability to move a critical mass of people.

So, is this kind of thing possible?

There's a myth that the Stanford Marching band, known for creating mayhem and mischief, was banned from an airline for rushing from side to side in flight, causing the plane to tilt. A plane is pretty big and heavy, and yet the movement of a few dozen people is theoretically enough to tilt it. A relatively small mass, when put into motion, could create enough momentum to affect the direction of a plane.

The same thing is true in our society.

What could a 5% shift do for our world?

estimated that a 15% recovery of wasted food could feed up to 25 million hungry Americans. A third of that (5% recovery) is still over 8 million people. That’s with only 1 out of 20 people changing their behavior- consuming only what they needed. Even if 19 out of 20 people didn’t change… not at first… it could still create a huge positive impact.

How about if 5% of the population committed to reducing and re-using instead of consuming new products?

Committing to 5% can be the catalyst the makes the other 95% possible.

Consider, first, that a 5% reduction in consumption would extend the time we have to find solutions to environmental and energy problems.

Secondly, a 5% change can help us stay in balance and avoid negative cascades.  Many chronic health problems can be linked to overeating, for example. A 5% reduction in meal sizes may be enough to let our bodies detoxify and heal, thereby maintaining balance.

Third, a 5% reduction challenges the unconscious assumption that we need to expand in order to be satisfied or successful. Politicians rarely if ever speak about ‘keeping the economy the same size’ or ‘shrinking the economy’ because it would be political suicide. But in reality, our quality of life could be improved even as our economy was reduced.

Fourth, a 5% shift in many policy and lifestyle usually means not having to create huge conflicts. We don't have to immediately become "saints", or eliminate all the "sinners". We can show that peaceful choices and compromise can make a positive difference in the world.

Finally, a 5% shift is not overwhelming. Can’t you imagine making a 5% shift in your own life? How about a 5% healthier diet? How about 5% more money saved each month? How about 5% more time each day, each week, specifically devoted to your health and happiness, peace of mind, or to help others?  It’s doable.

If you're interested in that crucial 5% change in your life, Body & Brain offers a variety of classes and programs to help you create the momentum you need. Start with a private introductory session or a trial class and learn more about how small changes in the way you manage your mind and body can have big effects.

So the next time you feel like the passenger on a huge ship, being carried towards some sort of inevitable collision, remember this little tidbit from math class: mass x velocity = momentum. In other words, a little mass, put into motion, can create a lot of momentum. Maybe even enough to change the course of society.

Written by David Driscoll
David Driscoll has been teaching ѨƵ and Brain Education for over 14 years. He is currently managing ѨƵ’s YouTube channel, BNBTV, as well as hosting Brain Masterz- A User’s Manual for the Brain- along with Minjae Kim. David studied anthropology at Princeton University and enjoys tai chi and meditation as well as traveling, studying languages, and golf.