• Who should I advocate for: my child or my child’s school?  Or the community of children in my area and the group of schools that serve them? Or schools tens of thousands of miles away who have an extreme need?
  • If I think Big Oil’s time is up, do I also have to avoid driving any gasoline-powered vehicle? Or is it acceptable to drive a Prius?  Must I avoid using barbeque propane and immediately put up solar panels on the roof?

  • I’m very sleepy, but others depend on my finishing this work by tomorrow. I need to control my sugar intake, but it’s my birthday cake. I am running a fever but there’s an exam at school.

We talk about alignment, and acting in alignment with our ideals. But in so many ways, we run into common connundra. How do I balance the needs of those I can protect and have authority over vs. the broader community?  How much should I personally sacrifice if the sacrifice is mostly or entirely symbolic? How much should I sacrifice if the sacrifice isn’t symbolic, but actually represents higher risk and lower resilience for me and increases my reliance on my community? And though I aim for thrivability, I know that even on a personal level there are times when I don’t even behave sustainably.

While I aim for thrivability, I know that, even on a personal level, there are times when I don’t even behave sustainably.

As a rationalist I have looked at this 20 years ago, proposing the idea that some mathematical combination of stakeholders’ points of view be aggregated to determine what the concept of growth really means. How can we measure important components of sustainability? What is the Return on Investment in education? Can we measure the reduction of risk based on meeting specific social goals?

I genuinely believe there are quantitative approaches to many of these crucial questions, though the models aren’t developed and the data are scattered and suspect. It’s just early.

But right now, today, how do I create a framework to approach these tensions between self and community, present and future, investment and risk?

I look to music.

“Harmony” is a musical jargon term, but for many it implies a sense of ease and flow. Even if my life is going every which way, how can I increase its harmony?

Musically, harmony is comprised of consonance (sounds that create peaceful feelings) and dissonance (sounds that create tense feelings). One of the more interesting things about music is that without dissonance music is boring! It’s actually dissonance that gives music a sense of movement. It’s dissonance that provides a sense of anticipation that consonance then resolves.

So to create harmony from areas that lack alignment, I propose looking at tension as something that ebbs and flows over time, sometimes resolved, sometimes tense, and the movement back and forth is a way of breathing between individuals and community. Then, whichever side of the conundrum we’re addressing, we attend to the precision of the note, the richness of the tone: the beauty of the melody.