I recently finished reading Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. I’ve read in many places what an invaluable resource this text is for writers, especially in regards to world building, and I agree one hundred percent. I learned so much from reading this book, and in spite of taking a month to get through the whole thing, I never wavered in my resolve to finish it.
Something in the Epilogue struck me as particularly interesting (although that is relative, since I learned something in every chapter that I found particularly interesting). Diamond was discussing why it might be the case that Europe obtained global power and multiple colonies on most of the continents before China. After all, in earlier history, China was far ahead in the technology race and had united a much larger area and population into a single nation.
Diamond concludes that this result is another effect of geography. China didn’t have geographical barriers to inhibit its unification, while it did have helpful rivers. Europe, on the other hand, had many geographical barriers to discourage unification (islands, peninsulas, and high mountain ranges) without China’s helpful rivers. But European nations weren’t that isolated from each other. This meant that if one ruler in Europe decided a technological innovation was horrible, other nations would still use it until all nations ultimately were forced to use it in order to compete. In China, on the other hand, if the Chinese ruler, say, took a dislike to ships and shipyards, the technology could be completely lost.
So being too isolated (and on a north-south axis), as many civilizations were in the Americas, meant that technology wouldn’t diffuse easily or quickly between different groups. But being too unified, as China was, also had an adverse effect on some critical technologies. Europe achieved that happy balance of fairly easy communication without unification that pushed several of its nations into being colonial powers. (There’s a lot more to it than this, and Diamond explains it better, so really you should go read his book if you haven’t already.)
It’s amazing to me how critical balance proves to be, on both large and small scales. On an individual level, the problem is similar. Take a practical free spirit such as myself, for example. I could swing too far onto the side of the free spirit, in which case I might become flaky, never complete projects, create a financial mess for myself and need bailing out, or a host of other problems. Or, I could swing too far onto the practical side and believe, like my friend did, that nonconformist lifestyles aren’t real, stay in a job that makes me unhappy, or save my money and never spend it on amazing experiences or experiments. Either way, I’d ultimately end up pretty unhappy.
I think most of us struggle with this same problem of balance. Family time vs. career time vs. me time vs. when I am going to write that novel? Or what diet can I try that doesn’t deprive me of so many treats that I can’t stick to it? Or what makes this relationship (or this career or this hobby) worth the work to me, and how can I remain comfortable while still keeping it fresh? This is an even more familiar problem to the ambivert, who often has to balance alone time with social time in some complex ratio.
We’re all walking multiple tightropes at once, making adjustments (both miniscule and large) as we go. Sometimes we stop paying attention or over-correct and down we go. Other times it feels almost effortless. We often don’t even notice all the balancing acts going on around us every day.
Doesn’t mean we’re not all out on that same rope.