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by William H. Benson

January 27, 2000

     All parts of a system must work for the life form/organization/machine to function, to thrive, to win.  Building a tried-and-true winning system is not easy.  It is the part of the system ignored or forgotten about that causes the losses, the crashes, and the system breakdowns. 

     For example, an airplane is a system of systems–fuel, hydraulics, electronics, etc.  A failure in one of those systems can cause loss of flight and a potential crash.  That is why engineers design dual and triple backup systems.  When one hydraulic system fails, the pilot reaches for another.

     The human body is also a system of systems.  The heart, lungs, blood, nerves, kidneys all do their duty and serve a crucial purpose.  Damage or disruption in one system brings on sickness.

     Football is a game also composed of systems: offense, defense, the line, the middle linebacker, the safety, special teams, passing game, running game, blocking, tackling, punting, and kicking.  To win the Super Bowl, all of a team’s systems must work a measure better than the opposing team’s.  The winner is not necessarily the team with the best record but the team that makes it to the playoffs and then wins there.  The team’s systems must perform at a peak and at full throttle.

     The family is a system in which parents and children both can thrive given the right qualities: optimistic attitudes, truthfulness, kindliness, acceptance, gentility, firmness, a refusal to choose nothing but the best, compliments, self-esteem boosters, punctuality, respect for authority and learning, and orderliness.  Without a healthy dose of at least some of those attributes, the individual members lose heart and then look elsewhere for sustenance.

     But systems do disintegrate.  Airplanes occasionally crash.  Human bodies eventually give up.  A football team’s leading rusher suffers a season-ending injury.  The winning quarterback retires.  The replacements are not quite of the same calibre, and the winning edge is lost.  The system grinds down.  The team loses another chance at the Super Bowl.

     And even families drift and then fall apart.  For example, a family that is marked by a fault-finding attitude, disrespect for authority, laziness, unfaithfulness, lack of consideration, or a refusal to spend time with each other leads to disruption.  Children suffer when the system is topsy-turvy.  What is truly “right” becomes, amazingly enough, the wrong thing to do, and what is truly “wrong” is suddenly the best choice.  What is black is now white, and what is white is black.  In a word, the system is messed up.

     Lewis Carroll, who happened to be born on January 27, 1832, wrote about Alice in Wonderland at a tea party.  She listened to guests talking strange and doing weird things.  The Walrus said, “The time has come to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, and why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings.”

     Like Alice, human beings can quite innocently find themselves in situations where they feel like they are the only sober person at a party filled with drunks.  The system has disintegrated.  The trick is learning how to keep your own head on when all those around you are losing theirs.

     National Geographic‘s latest edition discusses the possiblity of life on other planets–in other solar systems.  The writers suppose that the life forms there will have sufficient size to support a head with sensory organs and a brain and have a skeleton with limbs.  However, Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute in California cautions,  “Nature is probably much more inventive than we are.”

     Whatever their physical dimensions may be, I suspect that, should life arise on those planets, a certain “system”, similar to Earth’s, will also arise there.  Exceptional physical talent will still be highly regarded.  Beauty in all its forms will be highly esteemed.  The powerful will win the games and the thrones but will be invariably replaced over time by others yet more powerful.  Intelligence and reasoning skills will, like cream, rise to the very top.  Thoughtful planning and the execution of those plans will still win the ball games.  Patience, perseverance, and optimism will be their own reward.  Some things, some “systems”, even if on other planets, will not change.