How can we tell if something is alive?
Biologists look for 5 traits, processes or functions as signs of life:
- metabolism (consume, construct, destruct, excrete)
- growth (learn, build, improve)
- reproduction (spawn offspring or ideas)
- responsiveness (sensitive, attentive, active)
- movement (action, progress, liveliness)
These are the characteristics of life — the life of anything.
That’s cool, because I can ask, how does my group or organization fare in this test?
- Does it have a healthy intake, constructing, evaluating and excreting the excess?
- Is it growing in size, stature, knowledge and/or numbers?
- Is it spawning new ideas, new energy, spin-offs, satellites?
- Is it sensitive to the needs of community and responding effectively to those needs?
- Is it doing things and taking action rather than standing by, waiting or watching?
If my organization is alive, I can dive in. If not, how can I enliven it? If I can’t, perhaps I should look elsewhere.
Even better, I can do the life-test with projects I am considering taking on or investing in.
- Will it engage me in a healthy way and allow me to sift out and toss the excess?
- Will it contribute to my growth? help me learn, improve or perform better?
- Is it creative and something I will want to share and pass along?
- Does it meet a real need in a way that is effective at reducing the need?
- Will my active participation offer satisfaction, fulfillment and contentment?
Of every opportunity, I can ask: Is this alive for me?
… If maybe? Give it a try and test again.
… If no? Then it’s someone else’s project.
It’s worth the test. Our biology shows us how. All things we choose to do should answer yes to this question: Is this life-giving for me?
What are we made of?
the stuff of stars
the elements of the periodic table
concocted of chemicals that explode,
ions that interact,
molecules that relate.
We are the stuff of life.
No more, no less
we think, and move
and have our being.
Somehow we animated,
went from sketch to living color.
Our chemistry became biology,
we moved from dead in our tracks
to alive and well.
Well, not so well.
Our chemistry is faulty, we say,
prone to pesticides and processed to pieces.
Our environment does us in, we say,
nothing to be done about the ways of the world.
Our bodies betray us, we say,
resenting the long hours and little pay.
Who would fault us for losing hope in them?
the One who made us,
who imagined our being.
The chemist who
connected our elements,
shaped our molecules,
formulated our reactions,
exploded our contents.
the only one present when
our chemistry became our biology.
When we came to life.
Are you alive? How can you tell?
Frederic Martini, the author of my Anatomy and Physiology textbook, says that, “though the world around us contains an enormous diversity of living organisms that vary widely in appearance and lifestyle … biologists have found that all living things share certain basic characteristics.” These include:
- Growth and Differentiation
- Movement – either internal or external
- Metabolism and excretion
The new puppy at my house has me thinking about all these. He barks and wags and perks his ears. (responsiveness, check) He is bigger by half it seems than when we picked him out just a few short weeks ago. (Growth, check) He leaps, circles, bounds, patters, runs, flops, pants – well you know, he’s a puppy. (Movement, check) He eats, poops and pees. (Metabolism/excretion, check)
Now reproduction. He’s not old enough to produce more little Buddys. But the playfulness and joy he displays is reproduced in everyone around him, so I’m gonna give him a check mark for that one, too. No one would challenge my contention that Buddy is alive: fully alive.
What about me? Responding, growing, moving, energizing? If not, then I don’t want to be reproducing, because I would be perpetuating non-alive. If so, then I do want to be passing all I know and all I do onto future generations. They are not exact replicas, but they can be the beneficiaries of what I have created and lived thus far.
Knowing that, I must be all about responding, growing, moving, energizing and reproducing. (RGMER) In fact, it’s my responsibility to be sure I am attending to each, in each area of my life. In my relationships, my work, my faith, my person, I must choose life over the dead wood that isn’t alive. That I must replace with the freshness of life, and now I have a check list. If something fails the test, it needs a check up.
What about my neighborhood? Is it Alive? RGMER?
What about my community? My school? My town? My state? My country? My world? Is there RGMER, in each?
When we were called into life and gifted for this lifetime, we were created with the capacity to interact in and with our world and charged with the responsibility to attend to them in a healthy way. We were meant to choose life. Are we? Are we fully alive? Let’s see.
- Responsiveness/Irritability (How do you respond to the immediate changes in their environment?)
- Growth and Differentiation (Day by day, are you maintaining and maturing to honor your and support healthy growth?)
- Movement (Do you move from one spot, both internally and externally, or are you so fixed in place that nothing can move you?)
- Metabolism and excretion (Are you breaking down and building up better, eliminating what needs discarding, in order to provide a healthy environment for the life in you?)
- Reproduction (Are you preparing your replacement in this world to be better equipped for this life and the next?)
Life actually doesn’t defy definition. Biologists know life when they see it. So do I.