The (Super)Hero’s Journey of Buckminster Fuller
Sometimes a Superhero is born from the depths of loss, grief, depression and even suicide. Sometimes, it takes going to rock bottom to find your deepest purpose for living. And so it is with the towering figure of Buckminster Fuller.
Bucky, as he liked to be called, is an amazing story of tragedy and triumph. Seriously, when I learned about the twists and turns of this man’s life, I felt humbled and awed by who this man decided to become, even in the face of great loss and pain. Intrigued? Let’s go a bit deeper.
The Bucky in all of us
First of all, why am I sharing this story with the League? Well, because Superheroes are real people with real challenges, people that choose not their circumstances, but instead choose how their circumstances will make them stronger. Bucky exemplified the classic (Super)Hero’s Journey, in a completely unique way.
There is a Buckminster Fuller in all of us, and I hope as you read his story, understand his thoughts and watch his videos, you will come to see yourself in his humility and in his striving. He was a great human being, yes; but as he is fond of saying, a human being that simply endeavored to realize the potential faculties endowed to all humans.
The depths and heights
Bucky actually kept incredibly detailed and copious notes of his daily life (which he dubbed the ‘dymaxion chronofile’); so much so that the pages add up to 270 feet (40 tons)!
I am sorry (or relieved) to say, fellow Hero, that I am not going to recount the whole tale. This post only serves to offer a very broad stroke picture of his life, to give you a basic sense of his (Super)Hero’s Journey.
Growing up and education
Similar to other genius minds such as Einstein and Feynman, Bucky had difficulty adjusting to standard schooling. In fact, he had particular difficulty grasping geometry (which is ironic given what he would go on to invent). In fact, he was expelled from Harvard due to ‘irresponsibility and lack of interest.’ Bucky considered himself a ‘non-conforming misfit’.
Given my own unorthodox approaches, discovering this of a role model always seems to make me feel better about my own journey; not better actually, simply more validated.
Depression and near-suicide
In the late 1920’s, Bucky met with a series of debilitating losses: his recently launched construction business failed, forcing his family to live in damp and drafty housing. The next year, his four-year-old daughter died of polio and spinal meningitis–which Bucky saw as caused by their forced living conditions and thus his own failures. At this point, Bucky realized he was unable to financially support his wife and remaining daughter.
These losses led to a heavy drinking addiction and deepening depression. As he tells it, there came a day in Autumn 1927, where Bucky seriously contemplated a plan to kill himself allowing his family to benefit from the life insurance money. This was his lowest point.
Yet in this moment, something miraculous happened: Bucky experienced a mystical epiphany. In his deepest moment of despair, a feeling of overtook him of being suspended several feet in the air surrounded by a white light. In this moment, a clear voice spoke to him:
From now on you need never await temporal attestation to your thought. You think the truth. You do not have the right to eliminate yourself. You do not belong to you. You belong to Universe. Your significance will remain forever obscure to you, but you may assume that you are fulfilling your role if you apply yourself to converting your experiences to the highest advantage of others.
This experience would give purpose and direction to all that came after. In his words, at that moment he embarked on ‘an experiment, to find what a single individual [could] contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity’. He decided to employ his life experiences and unique talents, including his journey into depression and his compassion for suffering beings, ‘to the advantage of the many’. And this is exactly what he did.
Inventions, Life Work and Philanthropy
The incredibly prolific period that followed would stretch through the rest of his life, including radical engineering inventions (such as the geodesic dome, dymaxion car and dymaxion car), inventive concepts and neologisms (such as energy and material efficiency, tensegrity and ephemeralization), and written works (such as ‘Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth’, ‘I Seem to be a Verb’ and ‘Synergetics’).
Bucky wielded an innate genius when it came to forces of energy and systems thinking, which guided him as a visionary and futurist in the realms of human sustainability and ecological economics. In my view, one of the most insightful contributions he ever made was a simple yet brilliant redefining of the word ‘wealth’:
Wealth is the technological ability to protect, nurture, support, and accommodate all growth needs of life.
In this way, Buckminster Fuller shared an essentiality with another real-life Superhero of mine, Deep Ecologist Arne Naess: they both held fast to the right of all life to thrive and realize its inherent potential.
Some Potent Bucky Quotes
How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else.
What usually happens in the educational process is that the faculties are dulled, overloaded, stuffed and paralyzed so that by the time most people are mature they have lost their innate capabilities.
I am convinced that creativity is a priori to the integrity of the universe and that life is regenerative and conformity meaningless.
If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.
Love is omni-inclusive, progressively exquisite, understanding and compassionately attuned to other-than-self.
I’m not trying to counsel any of you to do anything really special except dare to think. And to dare to go with the truth. And to dare to really love completely.
Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person.
Conversations with Two Visionaries
And here now I present you with the most satisfying piece of information for those really wanting to get a deep sense of Mr. Buckminster Fuller: an extended video conversation between Bucky and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on the nature and need of conscious evolution on our shared planet–’Spaceship Earth’.
What I hope you see here exemplified in Buckminster Fuller’s life is the essential (Super)Hero’s Journey that we each take; one that is archetypal and essential.
It is a journey that starts in the familiar, followed by a shattering of the familiar through disorienting contact with the unknown, brought to fullness by a period of painful trials, which gives way to revelation into the deeper nature of self and world, finally leading the transformed hero to a return to the familiar to share the gifts and insights gained.
And though this journey is archetypal, each of us travels this path in unique and personal ways. So go forth fellow Hero, inspired and ignited by this tale of transformation, and discover your unique (Super)Hero’s Journey. Supporting you in this is the League’s primary mission.
In archetypal awesomeness,
Eka, aka SuperSpark
Another take on Buckminster’s depression and turn-around: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/15/arts/music/15ster.html
Spaceship Earth Manual: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operating_Manual_for_Spaceship_Earth
Wikipedia Page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckminster_Fuller
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