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What is Balance?

You can see from this blog's tagline that balance is a big deal to me.  It rather makes sense to kick things off by looking at balance, and why it matters in DFW.

Balance is big in nature.  Ecosystems balance; physical forces balance; energy balances.  Nature's been around for more than a dozen billion years, and it's been working on balancing things out ever since the Big Bang.  I humbly suggest there's something to this balance thing.



We humans tend not to do well when it comes to finding balance.  If you're liberal enough in your interpretation of things, you could argue that all sorts of things result from imbalance: war, economic disparity, climate change, jealousy, and generally feeling like crap at the end of a bad day.

Here, I'm not worried about the big picture stuff.  Instead I'm worried about my own personal balance.  You're personal balance will be different from mine.  Having you chase after my ideals won't do you any good - don't even try.  Instead, try to ask yourself the same questions I do, and accept that you'll answer them differently.  Vive la difference!

Probably the easiest way to think about balance is to consider an analogy with physical forces.  Physical forces cause change in things: they make things bend, speed up, slow down, turn one way or another, change shape, and explode.  If, however, you introduce a balancing force that acts against the first one, the changes stop:
  • Your car speeds up until the force of the engine is balanced by the drag forces of the wind.
  • The force of gravity pulls things down till they hit the earth, at which point the resisting force of the ground balances out and stops the falling thing.
  • You squeeze a stress ball and it changes shape till the force of your hand balances against the resistance of the stress ball.
There's a reason why we think of forces of good and evil, economic forces, military forces, psychological forces, and so on: the analogy to natural forces works.

Balance happens when all the forces acting on a thing add up to zero - no net force means no net change.  If you don't like how things are, you need to exert forces that will change the balance.

The point at which balance happens depends on the forces acting.  Think of a seesaw with an adult sitting on one side, and a young child sitting on the other side.  How do you arrange it so the child can lift the adult?  Move the pivot point of the seesaw so the child has a very long arm and the adult has a very short one.  The pivot point of the seesaw is the balance point.

The way things are - that is, the current state - is as it is because all the forces balance at the current state.  Situations will naturally find their balance points.  If you don't like the current state, you have to change the existent forces - or add or remove forces - so that the balance point moves to some other state that you prefer.

The balance point depends on how the forces are directed too.  In billiards, a glancing blow at high force can be enough to nudge a ball in the right direction.  If the blow were head-on, it would have to be much weaker, or the ball would go flying.  So not only the magnitude of the force matters, but it's direction matters too.  When the cue ball strikes a glancing blow, it can careen off and hit various other balls too.  So while a glancing blow can have a desired effect, it can also have many other, undesired effects too.

When you decide to try to change the way things are by tweaking the forces in action, you have to be aware that there will probably be unintended consequences too, and that you need to try to prepare for those, to make sure you're actually not doing more harm than good.

The forces that cause imbalance are always in flux.  So whatever you do to try keep balance requires constant vigilance and tweaking.  Setting the level of your house's furnace to maintain a reasonable temperature depends on the temperature outside your house, and the other sources of heat inside your house.  To balance those thermal forces requires regularly checking the actual temperature, and activating the furnace as needed.  Good thing we have thermostats - I'd hate to do that by hand.

It's like riding a bicycle.  If you were try to be consciously aware of every action your body has to do to keep riding the bike, you would fall off.  Go ahead and try it if you don't believe me.  Even for very simple activities - like riding a bike - the brain is not well suited to manage them in detail consciously.  Learning skills is how we make up for this cognitive shortcoming.  A learnt skill is automated by the unconscious parts of the brain.  Our conscious minds can then act at a more general / abstract level - giving high level commands that trigger all kinds of complex activities automatically in other parts of the brain.

Just because you like (or hate) the current state doesn't mean it won't change.  Indeed, the one thing you can count on is that things will always change.  Trying to manage them all consciously will drive you nuts.  But managing them well will help you lead a happy life.  So you need to learn skills that will help you manage things automatically, which will help you have a happier life.

This summarizes the key characteristics of balance.  Next, I'll write a little more specifically about how balance affects our activities, and how we know if we're doing things fast and well.

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