Ecosystems Are Both Universal & Unique

There are universals, certain things that are true always. Take energy, for example. Every living thing needs it, that’s a universal, a common element that we all share.

There are also specifics that vary within universals, aspects of it that are unique. Plants absorb energy from sunlight. while frogs eat bugs. Both share the same universal need, but they acquire energy differently.

Frog, Red Eyed, Tree, Amphibian

What would happen if a frog mimicked a plant’s behavior, only absorbing light?

It sounds ridiculously comical, but that’s because we are certain of both the universal & unique needs of plants & frogs. The solution to the copycat frog’s problem is obvious only if we correctly assess his particular need.

Unique needs & diverse applications of common solutions point to an important universal.

Ecosystems function best when

every element contributes uniquely

                                                                                     to the whole.


Human EcosystemsPlitvice, Lakes, Aerial View, Croatia

Families, classrooms, & societies are examples of human ecosystems.

Each person’s choices impact the whole, and the whole functions best when each contributes in their unique way.

If we focus too much on our differences, comparing instead of appreciating, everybody suffers. When we forget what is universal, we forget what we have in common & we feel alone.

If we focus on minimizing our differences, we lose not only ourselves, but the gifts we bring to help the whole. When we forget what is unique, we miss the beauty in diversity & in ourselves & those around us. 

When we blur the lines between the two, well that gets messy too.


The Challenge

Frogs don’t ever try a sunlight-only diet, but they are also slimy, croaky & I doubt they spend much time pondering the meaning of life either. Part of the uniqueness of being human is that we think about questions that the earth’s ecosystems don’t pause to ask. Questions like: Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? Is there any purpose in my day job?

Unlike the earth’s ecosystems, the challenge within human ecosystems is often:

  1. Distinguishing the difference between what is universal & unique &
  2. Embracing each in their proper sphere.

Distinguishing the difference between what is universal & unique reminds us to focus on what really matters. We are interdependent, but uniquely so. Embracing both means we can all enjoy playing our parts while being aware of what’s best for society as a whole.


Feeding the pigeons

Conversation: An Example Element

Just as a jungle might be affected by the weather, the settlement of a new village nearby, or an outbreak of animal disease, our daily life experience is impacted by many factors, big & small.

A conversation is one example of a routine element in a human ecosystem. We all converse, but every conversation is unique. A quick hello on your way in to work is quite different than a catch-up with your former roommate.

It’s usually easy to discern the difference, but let’s say we switched the two. We began spending an hour or two catching up on our way in to work & then we gave the roommate we hadn’t seen in a while a quick hello & continued walking.

It would be strange, right? The reason is these are normative experiences that we don’t often question. We’ve simply had enough life experience to know the kind of communication to apply in each of these diverse situations. The crazy thing about ecosystems & life is there are so many elements! The solutions are not always so clear.


Four Person Holding App Banners


You & Literacy: Two More Elements That Matter

You are one element of the ecosystem that is your life. Most often, we don’t recognize what we each individually bring to our spheres. We are just who we are, speaking & acting without awareness of the difference we make.

Every now & then, we get a glimpse. Maybe a friend reminds us that we bring a smile to their day, maybe we say something hurtful & regret it. We forget either is an opportunity to look at our role with more clarity, to respond.

Similarly, literacy is one element of our global ecosystem whose role we overlook. A universal element with multiple choices.

Just like conversation, literacy is unique in every context.

Just as we know the basics of communication, but may be unsure how to interact in any given situation, we often know the tools of literacy, but wonder how to best apply them in the moment.

You matter, & so do your conversations about literacy, each & every one. Together, we can improve our ecosystems.


Chirp is here when you wonder if the little moments make a difference.


Language: Distinctly Human

Whole Child Development

The Context of Story

Maslow on Human Needs


P.S. I first came across the idea of universal & unique from an article I read in a different context. I’d love to share it, but first I have to find it!