Trim-Tabbing Your Way through Life!

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

Mother Teresa

This week we look into a principle that can be a guiding light for us. It is all about becoming a trim tab throughout our life. It’s such a simple yet powerful principle that I thought to introduce you to it through the eyes of Buckminster Fuller.

Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983) was an architect, engineer, geometrician, cartographer, philosopher, futurist, inventor of the geodesic dome, and one of the most brilliant thinkers of his time. If you want to read one of his most famous works, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, initially published in 1969, is a brilliant synthesis of his worldview. 

In the February 1972 issue of Playboy, Buckminster Fuller said:

“Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by, and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab.

It’s a miniature rudder. Moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around.  (It) takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that, and the whole big ship of state is going to go.

So I said, call me Trim Tab.”

Some of you may recognize that this is a play on words from Moby Dick by Herman Melville. The opening sentence in that book is: “Call me Ahab.”

Most recently, Fuller’s metaphor received considerable media attention in January 2019 when actor Jeff Bridges appreciated it in his Cecil B. DeMille Award acceptance speech at the 76th Golden Globes

“Bucky made the analogy that a trim tab is an example of how the individual is connected to society and how we affect society. And I like to think of myself as a trim tab. All of us are trim tabs. We might seem like we’re not up to the task, but we are, man. We’re alive! We can make a difference! We can turn this ship in the way we wanna go!”

Everyone wants to know that their presence has made a difference and brought some value to the lives of others. This is true no matter where we choose to make a difference: to our families, work, communities, or life in general. 

As you read this, you might ask yourself what you can do to become a trim tab. If this interests you, please read further, and we’ll uncover ways you might do it. 

Mother Teresa offers one way to be a trim tab. She consistently admonished her followers to focus on bringing love and compassion to whoever or whatever was in front of them.  I’m repeating her famous quote here:

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.

Mother Teresa

Have you ever noticed that when you focus love and compassion on an individual, group, or situation, you begin to see an opening for possibility? The next small yet powerful move becomes apparent or discernible within that context. That is, you see that “all is well.”

Here is a process you can use to begin your “trim tab experience.”

  1. Identify a minor situation or circumstance in which you want to make a difference. It may not become immediately apparent to others that you are making that difference, but it’s something that gets done. This may not be a “big” circumstance. We’re practicing a new skill set, and let’s start small.
  2. Remember: being a “trim tab” is not necessarily about being the center of attention. Fame is often attached to those seeking to be the “rudder” rather than the much smaller trim tab. It takes courage to step back while making the powerful difference we’re here to make.
  3. Open your heart with the practice of gratitude by watching Brother David Steindl-Rast on YouTube
  4. Ask yourself: “What’s a little action I could take, with ease and grace,  that might produce the most significant result?
  5. Go ahead, take that action. While doing it, focus love and compassion on the situation and the people around it. 
  6. You might adopt these steps daily, ensuring you infuse each action with love, compassion, and gratitude.

People who have adopted the above practice tell me that life gets easier. They aren’t tired or exhausted at the end of the day. Their heart is open because they have directed their focus to produce results with the qualities that Mother Teresa exuded during her lifetime.  She wasn’t interested in being a “Great One.” She was devoted to bringing compassion and love to every aspect of her life by taking small, sweet steps.  Consequently, she automatically became Great in the eyes of those around her.

You can, too!  Try this out, and let me know what happens!

Until next time!

“Don’t wait for the world to come after you; you come after the world. A part of its ship is what you are; (either) a trim-tab or a hole.”

Bisher Al-Homsi

Wishing you all my best,