Network is Inevitable

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I don’t remember when I heard this phrase for the first time, but I do remember that it hit me hard, like a cold shower, expected yet surprising. Network is inevitable. Network is inevitable.

I kept repeating it to myself over and over again, to make sure i don’t lose sight of it this time. Not that I have ever stated it that way, but I have been dancing around it for the last ten years or so, ever since I started exploring complex systems. Complex systems are those that have no easy solutions. Systems that consist of parts that interact, like people in a family, company, city, or a country. Or ants for that matter. Or even the neurons in the brain.

Now, why did it hit me so hard?

I always knew that networks are important. They are all around us. From food, road, biological, communications, and political networks to more personal ones, like our family, friends, and colleagues. But it was the word “inevitable” that cut so deeply in my mind. It represented the simple truth: we cannot live without them, the networks. They are inevitable. Without them there is nothing.

OK, OK, but still, why is it so important?

Here is why. This phrase reminded me of a pet peeve of mine: I often hear people say “I just want to help other people, to serve other people.” I find this so insincere and annoying. If everybody started helping other people, then who would build airplanes, roads, banks, and universities? Who would defend our country? Who would build the Facebook and the Internet? Who would plow the soil? I understand that the statement “I just want to help other people” implies that the person uttering it is a good, selfless person who sacrifices himself or herself for the good of others. But, isn’t it true that such a statement really makes them feel good about themselves, which in itself then makes it a selfish act? I think that in the literature they call this benefit a “white glow.”

My thesis has always been that we should help others not because they need us, but because we need them. We need them to be strong and successful. Because, if they are strong and successful, then we will eventually benefit from their strength and success. They will build better companies and cities, and we will find jobs in those companies and live in those beautiful cities. And if we are strong and successful, then others will benefit from that too. So, we need to be the best we can be and help others be the best they can be. And everything we do should be beneficial to others, not harmful to them. And that is how we help them.

And, this is where networks come in. It is the existence of networks that makes this theory of “help them to help yourself” work. The benefits flow through the network and come back to each node within it. To each person. And if networks are inevitable (and they are, since no one person, or one company, or one organism can exist on its own), then the weakness of each node threatens the whole network. Me included.

So, what is the message of all this rambling? Be the best you can be, and make everyone else a better person because of your existence. Take care of yourself, and of your neighbor. And, make everyone you meet your neighbor, regardless of who they are.

 

 

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