by Kim Pederson…….

So, balance. It’s a complicated thing. Our bodies achieve it (or try to) every day. mostly unbeknownst to us. They keep (or try to keep) our core body temperature, our blood glucose, our plasma ionized calcium, our blood O2/CO2 pressure, our blood oxygen, our arterial blood pressure, our extracellular sodium and potassium content, our water volume, and our extracellular fluid pH, among many other things, on an even keel. I have no idea what most of these are but thank you, body, for your pursuit of homeostasis. Without it, we’d be…er…dead.

The real question, of course, is whether the bottle is half-full or half-empty.*

Another kind of physical balance is biomechanical. In short, it’s our ability to “maintain the line of gravity within the base of support with minimal postural sway.” In English that means we (most of us) can stand, walk, sit, and do other things without falling flat on our proverbial gobs or tushies. To maintain our balance (and dignity), we need constant input from our vestibular system (the inner ear), our somatosensory system (sensors in our skin, tissues, muscles, bones and joints, internal organs, and the cardiovascular system), and our visual system (eyes and everything between them and the brain). Somehow, our brain makes sense of all this input and makes adjustments as needed to keep us upright. I’m very glad that it all happens autonomously. If I had to do it consciously, every moment would be hello-face-plant experience. While this might improve my looks, it would wreak havoc on activities of daily living.

Of course, we do fall down on occasion. This usually involves, at least I surmise it does, a tipping point of some kind. There are numerous versions of TPs. The physical one is “the point at which an object is displaced from a state of stable equilibrium into a new equilibrium state that is qualitatively dissimilar from the first.” Face plant, in other words. In climatology, it’s similar but scarier, i.e., when the climate is tipped from one stable state into a different stable state with no return to the original state possible (spilled milk on a global scale). In sociology, the TP is the point where a group of people radically change their behavior. The latter occurrence is also referred to as a “social epidemic.”

Social tipping points were made famous (kindasorta) by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point. The subtitle is “How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.” Gladwell tells us that three factors are key to tipping over into epidemic behavior, or social contagion if you will: 1) the law of the few, 2) the stickiness factor, and 3) the power of context. The first refers to someone with a particular and rare set of social gifts. The second refers to that certain something about the “message” that makes it memorable. The third is the influence of environment, or, more specifically the influence of the conditions and circumstances of the times and the places in which they occur. Without a doubt we have seen these three at work recently in America.

Now the social/political pendulum seems poised at another tipping point. Having swung as far right as possible, it appears ready to head in the other direction. It’s the “restoring force” of gravity that brings a pendulum (eventually) back to its resting position. Let’s hope that works here, too. Let’s hope there is a restoring force. Let’s hope gravity wins over reckless disturbing pushes, whatever their origin, and that the wild swings calm and then stop and we find equilibrium or, as those of us who flunked seventh-grade physics call it, and you knew this was coming, balance.

*Woman balancing on champagne bottle. 1903. Public Domain.

Visit Kim Pederson’s blog RatBlurt: Mostly Random Short-Attention-Span Musings.

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