A few years back, I got a Galileo thermometer for my birthday. It’s called a Galileo thermometer because Galileo discovered the principle that makes it work – that the density of liquids changes with the temperature. It’s a clear glass tube of liquid with small glass orbs in it. The orbs vary in color, and each has a temperature label hanging from its bottom. The glass orbs float or sink, depending on the temperature of the room. The one floating lowest is the one that tells you the temperature. When Galileo created it in the early 1600’s, he called it a thermoscope. Whatever it’s called, it’s beautiful, useful, and truth bearing – my three reasons for keeping things. 64 degrees looks a lot better on the Galileo thermometer than my thermostat, and it works without batteries or electricity.
When my sons were younger, I’d let them hold my Galileo thermometer. The warmth of their hands did what no amount of turning or gentle shaking could do: get the orbs to move. If they both put their hands on it, the orbs moved faster – an early lesson in scientific method and in the advantages of cooperation. It’s not a direct action that moves the glass orbs, but an indirect one: hands create warmth, warmth creates movement. Understanding and honoring the principle behind the thermoscope, working with its nature, bring about change without harm. It’s a lot more fun, a lot less frustrating, and nothing gets broken in the process.
It’s a good metaphor as well as a functioning thermometer: understanding and honoring something, working respectfully and gently, first doing no harm, are the best ways to bring about change. Even better, such effort reveals a truth – we change whatever we touch.