Beads, Seeds and Trim Tabs…

Photo by Jessica von Handorf

We live in a noisy world where everyone is competing to be—or create—the next big thing. However, as the old saying goes, ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow’, and so grows community from the actions large and small of its stakeholders.

I learned a lot about the importance of the individual participant to influence the tribal community story w­­­hen I worked for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. One day I had a conversation with the Senior Executive Officer of Tribal Relations about a pin covered in seed pearls. There was one seed missing and it immediately brought to mind the thought that the pattern was incomplete and, therefore, couldn’t fully communicate the value of the piece of jewelry. This then led to my development of The Bead & Seed Initiative to provide a framework in which individual members of the tribe could develop their personal economic pathway as part of the larger goal of shared tribal prosperity. Although the time wasn’t right for that project, it has become a useful framework for conversations with a wide range of stakeholders to demonstrate why one person’s contribution, no matter how small, is important to the future of the community, no matter how large.

In 1972, Buckminster Fuller described the power of this concept in an interview:

Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Elizabeth — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said, “Call me Trim Tab.” (source: Brainpickings August 2015)

This message is especially important now. The problems of the modern world can seem overwhelmingly large in the face of any human-scale action. However, with the advent of technology, even the smallest action can be amplified and resonate far beyond the individual’s immediate circle of influence. It is these seeds, beads and trim tabs of truth that inspire us to action, helping us imagine and produce the story of our shared present and future.