Thirty Trillion Occupants

Bill Bryson is a marvelous writer. And a blazingly curious thinker. The Body: A Guide for Occupants, has kept me from sleeping on more than one evening. Here’s one of his nuggets: It seems that the human body contains about 30,000,000,000,000 living cells. That sounded like a lot to me so I tried counting to check his math. I could only get up to about 250 when I lost track and had to start again, so I’ll trust his research.

Though there are misfires and miscommunication from time to time, and a continuous, mind-boggling turnover of personnel every second, these thirty trillion cells, this community, works through what I like to call a declaration of interdependence. Liberal cells don’t hate conservative cells. Red blood cells and white blood cells may or may not be fond of each other and go to soccer games together, but when it comes to survival, it’s we, not them.


And this is a forced affiliation, btw. As far as I know, cells don’t get to say, “I’d rather be part of that  body down the street, or “I’m not comfortable in a Swedish liver; could I please emigrate to a liver from Sri Lanka?” When we choose an affiliation, e.g. a spouse (for most of us, anyhow), we may hold a more willing sense of attachment, but the need for interdependence is no less. By the way, affiliate comes from a Latin word meaning, ‘adopted as a child’ (literally, son). We work together better when we connect as if we were family. Functional Family.

Breakdown and the pathogen

The homeostasis of our bodily systems faces lots of challenges. Everything from too much pizza to infection upsets the community. One of the most insidious of these breakdowns is when our immune system’s ID process goes haywire – autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. And lupus. The sentinels of our body attack invaders instead attack other members of the community. Instead of affiliation, we experience a civil war.

The jury is out on the cause of autoimmune disease. There seems to be a collision of genetic and environmental factors that triggers this implosion of community. So far, no one has isolated a pathogen – a virus, bacteria, or protozoan, for instance –  that causes it. We do know, with certainty, what causes the social version.

The pathogen that causes socioautoimmune disease is the sum of all of us who turn away. Away from possibility. Away from empathy. Away from the human family.  We infect the community of humanity when we abandon the inoculations of common sense, compassion, and courage. When we would rather run from the resource of our differences and substitute “Them” for “Us.”

The antidote to inflammation

When I feel the Shingles-like itch of resentment cropping up, I get to ask myself a question: “Who am I choosing to become that I fan my fear by pointing it at other people?”

It takes courage to face our fears. We can take that tiny bit of emotional inflammation upon ourselves. We can treat it with acceptance and compassion. We then carry the antidote: forgiveness.

We nourish this antidote within first, then we share it with every cell – every person. Resentment inflames, and forgiveness heals.

A non-commercial

Please stop by and give the back2different podcast a listen. It’s totally pro bono and carried on Buzzsprout, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Stitcher, Pandora, Podcast Addict, Podchaser, Pocket Casts, Deezer, Listen Notes, and Podcast Index.

One more pitch, also a pro bono enterprise, is our book,  [email protected], featuring voices from around the world in conversation about improving this thing we call Work. All proceeds go to Doctors Without Borders. Both of these projects focus on bridging our differences and turning down the oven of inflammation.


Mac Bogert
Mac Bogert
I fell in love with learning, language, and leadership through the intervention of two professors—I had actually achieved a negative GPA—who kicked my butt for drifting through my first couple of semesters at Washington and Lee University. After graduate school at U. Va., I started teaching English at a large high school in northern Virginia. A terrific principal lit my fire, a terrible one extinguished it. I left after five years (the national average, as it turns out, maybe the only time I did something normal) and started an original folk/blues/rock band. That went well for a time until the record company sponsoring us folded. I toured for some years as an acoustic blues musician, primarily as an opening act for bands like the Muddy Waters Band, Doc, and Merle Watson and such remarkable talent. As that market dried up (disco), I earned my Coast Guard Masters License and worked for the next decade as a charter and delivery captain and sailing instructor. At the same time, I was working part-time as an actor and voice-over artist, selling inflatable boats and encyclopedias, and working as a puppeteer. Itchy feet, I suppose. I came back into the system in 1987 as a teacher specialist in health and drug education in my county school system, also part-time as Education Coordinator (and faculty member) for Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. I ‘departed’ both jobs in 1994 (therein lie more stories than 350 words could hold) and started my own business. AzaLearning is the career I’d been dodging for decades. I serve 200 clients around the country, helping with all kinds of coaching, planning, transforming conflict, creative problem-solving, communication, and mediation (I also trained and worked as a community mediator somewhere during sailing and teaching): learning, language, and leadership. In 2016 I published Learning Chaos: How Disorder Can Save Education and actively contribute to a couple of online education magazines as well as publish a newsletter, a blog, and the learning chaos podcast.

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