You Do Not Belong to You. You Belong to the Universe.
by Buckminster Fuller
In 1927 my wife and I were living in Chicago, in a one room apartment on Belmont Avenue. We were penniless. Five years earlier, our first daughter had died on her fourth birthday, having gone through infantile paralysis, flu, spinal meningitis and pneumonia. It was a long and terribly painful thing for us when she died. About that time my father-in-law, an architect, had invented a new building material. I liked this man very much - and I thought his invention would be useful. I finally organized four small factories around the country making this material.
I worked terribly hard, but the minute I got through work for the day - I guess I was in a lot of pain because our child had died - I'd go off and drink all night. I had enough health, somehow, to carry on. But the company failed and some very prominent people had bet money on me. So I was in disgrace and utterly broke. At that moment a new life, our daughter Allegra, came to us.
I appeared to myself, in retrospect, a horrendous mess. I found myself saying, "AM I an utter failure? If so, I had better get myself out of the way, so at least my wife and baby can be taken care of by my family." At that time Lincoln Park, right on Lake Michigan, was one of my favorite places. I would run through the park at night, and I knew every inch of the lake edge. So I knew just where to go when I decided to throw myself into the lake, fully intending to commit suicide.
I stood by the side of the lake, hesitating. All my life, at home and in school, I had been admonished: "Never mind what you think! Listen! We are trying to teach you!" But by that lake side I was forced to do some thinking on my own.
I asked myself what a little penniless human being with a remaining life expectancy of only 10 years - I was 32 and the life expectancy of those born, as I was in 1895 was 42 - could do for humanity that great corporations and great political states cannot do. Answering myself, I said: "The individual can take initiatives without anyone's permission."
I told myself: "You do not have the right to eliminate yourself, you do not belong to you. You belong to the universe. The significance of you will forever remain obscure to you, but you may assume that you are fulfilling your significance if you apply yourself to converting all your experience to the highest advantage of others." So I vowed to keep myself alive, but only if I would never use me again for just me - each one of us is born of two, and we really belong to each other. I vowed to do my own thinking instead of trying to accommodate everyone else's opinions, credos and theories. I vowed to apply my inventory of experiences to the solving of problems that affect everyone aboard planet earth.
I didn't want to waste a second, so I slept that way that certain animals sleep: lying down as soon as I was tired, sleeping a half hour every six hours. I also decided to hold a moratorium on speech. It was very tough on my wife, but for two years in that Chicago tenement I didn't allow myself to use words. I wanted to force myself back to the point where I could understand what I was thinking.
I decided to forget about earning a living. It seemed to me that humans are honey-money bees, doing the right things for the wrong reasons, just as the bee pollinates the flower.
Released from the idea of earning a living, I was able to address problems in the biggest way. I decided to commit myself to the invention and development of physical artifacts to reform the environment. I decided that a plurality of such artifacts had the potential to evoke humanity's most intelligent, interconsiderate qualities. It became obvious that if I worked always and only for all humanity, I would be optimally effective. I'd be doing what nature wanted me to do, and nature would literally support me.
Once I decided to do my own thinking, the first question I had to ask myself was: "Do you have any experiential evidence that forces you to assume greater intellect operating in the universe?" My answer was swift and positive. Experience demonstrated an orderliness of interactive, exceptionless principles. I was overwhelmed by this, and more convinced that my purpose was to abet the inclusion of human beings in the design of the universe.
I'm absolutely convinced that everything that has happened to me since that time has been through my commitment to this greater integrity.
Many times I've chickened, and everything inevitably goes wrong. But then, when I return to my commitment, my life suddenly works again. There's something of the miraculous in that.