I'm Ben Gruber

2013 / 29 July

A Life Spent Actively Fighting for Nothing to Happen


Last week I was bombarded by a bunch of people on Facebook looking to promote a company or cause that they are attached to. They clearly have indiscriminately hit the “Invite All” button that Facebook provides when you start a new page. I have been there. I have seen this button. I have been tempted by it as well, like a big red “Don’t Press” button. But, I have fought the urge. Do unto others… or something of that nature.

The volume of invites is no different than any other week though really.  The only difference is that for some reason, I actually ended up clicking on a link. Why I decided to engage with this particular cause – that was pushed into my inbox without thought of whether I might personally care about  it – is still a mystery to me. However, the website and video that promoted this particular cause got me thinking. Not about this particular campaign, which happened to be about preventing Radon filled Fracked gas from being pumped into a Con Edison plant on the West Side of New York City, but about these types of initiatives in general.

For the next day or two I contemplated what struck me as interesting about this type of campaign and finally it hit me. The entire premise of all the energy, man hours, passion, money and outreach of this particular campaign was to make sure that something did NOT happen. I am not saying this with any sense of judgement. I believe that these types of campaigns are important. I just find the concept of it fascinating.

So to say it in another way. There are people who work on these types of preventive campaigns for years and years. Spending countless hours and resources on the subject. And the intended outcome – the thing that they are fighting for with all their might – is for NOTHING to happen. Their moments of celebration, of accomplishment is when they find out nothing will happen for at least a little while longer.

I completely realize that they are fighting for something they believe is negative not to happen. And again, I believe that in many cases this is important. I am meaning it in more of a real tangible output sense. If they succeed in what they are trying to accomplish, nothing will be built. They go out drinking when nothing is made, nothing changes, nothing is produced.

These types of campaigns are common, but not as common as you think. It is a unique kind of campaign and effort, one that typically relates to construction, the environment, and physical things, although I can think of a few intellectual property type cases as well. It does not strike me as fascinating in the same way for similar but not identical campaigns such as social movements, legislation and these types of efforts. It is more interesting to think about with tangible production.

Anyway, I think the reason that this is so weird of a concept to me is because I am so interested in making things – products, websites, gadgets… shelves. You should see my office, my room and my desktop. They are all filled to the brim with things I have made. I guess I have somehow ingrained the concept in myself that producing equals value. For better and for worse, I have internalized the idea that I am not really doing anything, at least of value to the world, if I am not making something that the world can use. Maybe that is because it is easier to measure production than it is to measure other things. Or maybe it is because that is what I am good at. Definitely something to think about.

But rather than think about it deeply, I will just convert it into my normal way of thinking.  And here I go… If the world is at a 84 in “goodness” (made up Ben Gruber scale of how good the world is) and the production of some particular thing will make the world worse off by say 4 – causing the world to drop to a “goodness” of 80. Then if you were to stop this from happening, the world would remain at 84. Which is sort of like producing 4 extra points. So all that hard work, time, money and effort isn’t producing nothing. It is in someway producing 4 units of goodness.

Ahhhhhh… that feels good. Now I get it.

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