A Christian look at unintended ways that our lives affect others, and what to do.
The Cat House Café at the Memphis Zoo sits beside the gibbon exhibit, where Ringo and Talulah entertain guests with their funny faces and their acrobatics. When we eat there, my family and I get a table as close as we can to the picture windows overlooking their home, and yesterday the closest table was next to some loud, rambunctious little boys. Valuing Ringo and Talulah more than a quiet table, knowing that it is senseless to expect little boys to be quiet at the zoo, and being loud sometimes ourselves, we sat down and enjoyed a cheeseburger, waffle fries, and chicken strips for lunch.
Being a business and economics-minded person, I could not help but think about how the various people in the café were affecting each other; the costs and benefits of each interaction. The direct and intentional interactions were between workers preparing and selling food and drinks, and customers eating and drinking. There were indirect and unintentional actions as well. These can be thought of as externalities, which Investopedia defines as “A consequence of an economic activity that is experienced by unrelated third parties.” Typically, the costs or benefits of the goods or services being bought and sold do not reflect the costs or benefits of the externality. A classic example of a negative externality is a factory generating air pollution that its workers and nearby residents breathe. A classic example of a positive externality is that same factory cleaning up its exhaust and planting a park for its employees. The surrounding neighborhood would also benefit.
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Our acrimonious political debates often center on class struggle, those who “have” against those who “have not.” Perhaps the conflict is really between those who “do”, who contribute to wider society, and those who “do not,” who take without giving.
The 2012 Presidential Election campaign is in its final weeks, and while one candidate seems to relish contrasting the “haves and have nots”, the other candidate recently implied that the real division is between the “do and do nots.” One group seems to boil with resentment against those who they perceive have more than they do. Another group seems to boil with resentment against those who they perceive do less than they do. Is either narrative accurate? Are both narratives accurate but incomplete? The debate is not limited to candidates or even parties; large swaths of the American population seem to feel the same way. The structure of the human body can shed light on these questions.
The human body is made of billions of cells, the building blocks of life. The cells are fundamentally the same, including parts such as the nucleus, the cytoplasm, the mitochondria, and the cell membrane. There is also diversity amidst the unity, with cells of hundreds of types and functions, including muscle cells, bone cells, hormone secreting cells, nerve cells, skin cells, fat cells, and many others. They are arrayed in a system of incredible complexity, and work together with precision to accomplish the purposes of the body. The human body is a truly magnificent creation.