It is easy to fall into despair when looking at all the terrible things occurring around us. Whether it’s an uncontrolled lust for power in all its forms, a desire to win no matter what it costs all of us, or a fear of the unfamiliar that translates into either, it all comes from the same place: a disconnection from each other, and, perhaps even more importantly, who we really are and what our most transcendent potential is.
At the time of this writing, eleven days have passed since the most recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Many people, far more politically knowledgeable than I, have posited Putin’s motives for the invasion. Whatever his motivations, however, his actions demand more immediate concern. He is declaring war and decimating the land and people of another sovereign nation.
One would think in the approximately 5,200 years of civilization that we would have learned to use words over weapons, and yet, here we are. In a world where a single attack and retaliation of nuclear weapons could wipe out most of the world population and render the soil and the sea unusable and poisonous, leaders still choose to use nuclear weapons as threats and lesser weapons, quite capable themselves of the mass slaughter of cohabitants of this planet.
Carl Sagan, in his 1994 book The Pale Blue Dot, wrote the following:
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save ourselves from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
That’s it. That’s all we get. This place in which “every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended on a sunbeam.” (You can read a more extensive version of Sagan’s quotation here.) And yet, we’re so busy getting caught up in power struggles that, from the perspective of the universe and our pale blue dot, are insignificant.
Those who lust for power will never have enough: they will not have the power to create anything as magnificent as the cosmos. Those who lust for resources will never have them all: there are things on earth yet to be discovered, in the sea, in the sky beyond our vision.
It makes me think of lyrics from one of my favorite Tool songs, “Right in Two”
Don’t these silly monkeys know that
Eden has enough to go around?
Plenty in this holy garden, silly monkeys
Where there’s one, you’re bound to divide it
Right in two
All of this unrestrained lust for power, this hunger to win no matter the cost, and the wars, whether they’re on the national front or in our own communities is so very irrelevant from the perspective of the pale blue dot.
Monkey killing monkey over pieces of the ground
give them thumbs they make a club
to beat their brother down
How they’ve survived so misguided is a mystery
Repugnant is the creature who would squander the ability
to lift an eye to heaven, conscious of
his fleeting time here
Gotta divide it all right in two
Ⓒ 2006 “Right in Two” from the Album 10,000 Days
Writers: Adam Jones, Justin Chancellor, Maynard Keenan, Daniel Carey
I don’t know if there is any way to reason with a bully, whether it’s over lunch money and shaming in the school yard or over land and resources on the international front.
Maybe all we can do is reconnect with ourselves. rediscover and practice our empathy, over and over and over again in hopes that it will spread and maybe, just maybe, reverse some of the dehumanization that is so much a problem now.
Maybe this is the work that needs to be done bottom-up.
It is not easy to remain optimistic when looking at all the terrible things around us. Maybe it feels that any effort for change would never make a dent in the overwhelming and seemingly never-ending river of horrible things. Maybe it feels hopeless to believe that we could ever effect any meaningful change.
I challenge us to do it anyway.
I challenge us to do our best–over and over and over again–to plant the seeds of empathy whenever and wherever we can in our little corner of the pale blue dot that every single human shares.
We may never see our seeds sprout, but that doesn’t mean that they wither.
There’s a saying that’s attributed as a Chinese proverb:
The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.
Let’s plant the seeds of empathy at the second best time.
Thanks for reading.
Special thanks to Steven DiBernado.