How a Pencil Proves our Indisputable Interconnectedness

As I savor the final moments of the evening, the echo of a train captures my attention. It reminds me of the train that would pass by my childhood home. I ponder, what’s in that train? Freight? Materials? This train of thought lures me to recall an article I read in one of my economics classes: I, pencil.

I, Pencil written by Leonard Read, explains how no one in the world knows how to make a pencil—every detail of the pencil. A pencil is composed of graphite, cedar, rubber, glue, etc, but also the bulldozers used to harvest the cedar, the lighthouses used to guide the ship into port, the people who keep the factory running, the delivery trucks, the assembling factories and where all their equipment comes from. There’s an endless amount of jobs and materials and not one person would know how to build the pieces of all of them.

This phenomenon is referenced as the invisible hand in economics—how unseen forces shape and move the free market. Somehow, everything harmoniously, yet mysteriously, comes together. We are all a cog in the spoke in the wheel of life.

I appreciate this story because it uncovers our inevitable interconnectedness as human beings. We’re all reliant on one another, on our planet, and vice versa. Without our interdependence, we wouldn’t have anything, not even pencils.

I believe our interconnectedness and reliance on other human beings is taken for granted lately. It seems as if people only want to surround themselves with other like-minded people. This is profoundly dangerous. We need growth. We need to have an open mind. We need to stretch our imagination. It’s the beauty of our diversity of thought and varying backgrounds that enable us to be more understanding and bring us closer together.

Unlike any other species, we’ve evolved because of our immense ability to work together. I, for one, wouldn’t want to count myself out of that.

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My personal blog can be found here.

47 thoughts on “How a Pencil Proves our Indisputable Interconnectedness

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    1. I feel the same way. Unfortunately, I feel many others do as well. Yet, even more dark, some people may not realize the amount of influence being pushed down our throats. Keep your head above water, and keep on being a positive part of the movement. More will join!

      Liked by 6 people

  1. I have been looking at my niece’s pencil for the last ten minutes!

    I will never look at a pencil the same way again!

    Great article, Ellen! So simple yet so potent!

    I love your point on our interconnectedness. We really need each other!

    Liked by 9 people

  2. I would hate a world without pencils! So important to recognize our interconnectedness and to work together harmoniously. Those who try to divide people and destroy international relations usually turn out to be selfish, greedy, and power-hungry. They are not our friends! Have a great weekend, E.L. ! 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  3. The study of economics is ultimately a branch of the study of ecology. The rules are different and the definitions are different but everything is interconnected in a vast web of competition and mutual dependence.

    Economies are also fundamentally chaotic when viewed over long periods of time while staying within a general set of bounds. I cannot predict the exact weather a month from now but I can give you a broad range of conditions that might arise based on regular time-based fluctuations, just like the weather. We could just as easily draw the parallel between economics and meteorology and climatology.

    The biggest difference is an economy is not a zero-sum game whereas a natural ecology is. Meteorology is also zero-sum because the planetary heat and water budgets WILL balance. Humans play with these rules at great risk. Pumping CO2 into the atmosphere paving the surface over and massively deforesting the planet cannot help but affect the balance. We’re mucking with a zero-sum system and what we gain will be balanced by losing something else.

    The total amount of water in the world is constant, Only how it is distributed may change. One person’s drought WILL become another’s surplus.

    An economy can produce more with less by becoming more efficient, to do more with less. We can also use external sources of energy not available to regular ecological and even meteorological systems. There will still be a cost – there is ALWAYS a cost = but if we are clever we can keep it from becoming too terrible.

    The other difference is that humans can create artificial rules in an economy in an attempt to constrain the actions of the participants. We can write the rules so the “losers” don’t become desperate for survival and the “winners” don’t overwhelm the system – but don’t imagine that there are greater rules that can’t be overwritten.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Fred, fascinating connection between economics and ecology. I had never directly connected those before but I have always believed that everything impacts everything and that can be exemplified in more ways than one. The points about the zero-sum and non zero-sum games are really interesting as well. It is unnerving to think about how much we as humans are impacting mother nature, as it surely will come with a loss of something else. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Did you happen to study economics too or are you just a keen observer? 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I did study environmental biology for a bit and I studied business for a bit. But it was mostly idle thinking.

        And that last line should be, “don’t imagine that there *aren’t* greater rules that can’t be overwritten.” One of those rules is the law of natural selection, which applies to businesses and ideologies, as well as the evolution of species. There are other “laws” to be found in biology, math, and physics that also apply to economic systems

        Liked by 2 people

  4. That is a fantastic anecdote. I’m storing the pencil story in my brain. I enjoy economics: I don’t find it boring and I agree that it shows how we all connect and need one another.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. It’s fascinating to see how many common things of our lives are more complex than we think. I mean, I’ve been standing in front of my pencil like an idiot, but I barely know why the tip sometimes gets broken. Besides the jokes, I’m studying economy and I think you have written a great truth. We are interconnected, not just in those activities linked to our job, we are interconnected every minute, when we’re reading, watching tv, walking around, meeting people. And sometimes what a single does will affect thousand of people.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I love this. I have similar thoughts about our interconnectedness to others when traveling on major highways, and looking into cars (not while I’m driving, of course!). It’s fascinating to think about how many of us have used the same roads to take such different paths. Thanks for a thoughtful read.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s quite an interesting point there! I do the same and also think to myself how fascinating it is that all these people have as complex lives as I do, it’s easy to forget that sometimes but a great reminder. Thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙂 <3E

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I enjoyed your essay. I agree with the point about interconnectedness, but that’s nothing new. It’s been true for decades. Nor is it necessarily sinister, as at least one commentor suggested.
    I disagree that no one knows how to make a pencil. We have a cadre of people and software in the discipline of supply chain management. These are the people who connect raw materials, component manufacturers and transportation together to make things happen. When the system they manage works the way its supposed to, it’s invisible to customers. When it doesn’t work, as in the current case of Covid vaccines and usually due to inept decisions from senior executives, the failings are highly visible.
    Supply chain management is an art. Truly gifted managers know how to reconfigure the chain when a tsunami takes out a supplier so that there is little or no impact on customers. Like the military, its a job that can be characterized as weeks of boredom interspersed with a few hours of chaos/terror.
    In modern society, there is a supply chain involved in creating virtually anything.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Our interconnectedness isn’t new. What I believe to be new is the movement of taking this interdependence for granted, even more so with the current political state. Every day things seem to get more and more divisive. That’s what I hope can change in the future.

      I still stand by the argument of the author of I, Pencil. Maybe I didn’t do it justice explaining it, but it truly would be a marvel if someone knew all the components of making a pencil–not just supply chain management. How to make the trucks that deliver materials for the pencil, how to make the ships that import the goods, how to make the light house that guides the ships in, how to make the bulldozer, how to make the raw materials for each and every one of the previous steps…. If you pause to think about it you will see how infinite the tasks are.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I see the divisiveness stemming from resistance to change and ultimately from ignorance. Rather than taking interdependence for granted, the mythology of rugged individualism and the “self-made man” encourages denial that this interdependence exists or should exist.

        The failing of the US auto industry can be traced to that. US companies used to insist on having everything made inhouse, or, later using captive subsidiaries for some parts. The world is too complex for anyone to know and excel at everything. Japanese companies chose to share quality suppliers, allowing these suppliers to master specific niches. One can know many fields at a superficial level, but only master a few. The Japanese arrangement ultimately facilitated superior product quality.

        Of course, In the past, people who didn’t want to fit into an interconnected system could simply pack up and leave. When the “last frontier” is space, that ceases to be an option. For someone dedicated to the idea of “rugged individualism”, that’s got to be intensely aggravating. Is the divisiveness we see simply an acting out of this angst?

        Liked by 2 people

  8. We’re here today only because of the achievements of our forefathers, no matter if they were the ones who discovered electricity, or worked in the coal generators to keep homes powered.

    We’re just a wave of our past, and we will continue to wave on into the future through our children. Great post. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Yes, I love this! Remembering how we are one data point on thousands of generations. 7,500 generations before us on average I believe. It’s an amazing feeling to remember I’m a part of my previous family members’ successes, failures, and ultimately, the evolution of mankind. Thank you for sharing and for reading 🙂 <3E

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Yes recognising the interconnectedness we get to see the things with a multi-dimensional approach and leads to our own evolution as a human . And we should also remember that human is a social animal who need others to complete him subjectively.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. As an introverted extrovert I value time by myself to recharge, but quickly fall into the traps within my mind if I spend too much time alone. In a world where independence is valued (in my opinion often far too greatly), and there are so many encouragements for us to survive on our own, long periods of isolation and lockdowns haven’t helped. We have all these different ways to reach out, to leave messages, to talk with someone on the other side of the world …but nothing will replace meeting with people and having an in-person discussion—at least not yet.

    Humans are biologically social creatures, requiring interaction to grow, and learn, and develop. I’m only sad it took me the better part of thirty-three years to figure it out!

    Thank you for your words, and encouragement to examine. 😊

    Like

  11. Yes! I fully agree and embrace your message here. Unfortunately, our current economic system forces too many of us to think and act egocentrically. I’ve got mine and forget everyone else! If we could more viscerally feel our interconnectedness, we could potentially self-actualize as a species. I hope. I hope. Hope spring eternal.

    Like

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