OUR COSMIC CONTEXT
In the coming weeks I’ll be headed back to Nicaragua for a mid-summer visit with rural partners, colleagues and a changing culture. The sources of transformations in Nicaraguan society are many, of course, just as they are in the U.S. and virtually every other place in the world that has access to news, the Internet and cell phone technology. Our nations are no longer isolated places where lifestyles and mores can exist separate from each other, if indeed they ever were.
Change can be either something that happens to us or something that we create with deliberate intent. The topic of the workshop that we will attend (along with some fifty small growers, cooperative members, second-tier coop leaders, lenders, and others in the chain of agricultural production) will focus on the power in creating and harnessing change in productive ways. By having all of the actors in the chain of production participate in the two-day session, their interdependence becomes far more evident than if the attendance consisted of one group only. Interdependence and collaborative work are essential components to sustainable development in Nicaragua or anywhere.
Winds of Peace has been asked to contribute some thoughts on the topic of change within the context of that interdependence. We have some thirty years of our own history of change and a wealth of experiences encountered during that time. Those observations may prove to be worthy of discussion and application for our Nicaraguan audience. But I’ve wanted to envision something else to share, a view which, of its own nature, might generate an entirely different way of imagining our circumstances and relationships, establishing our priorities and values, beholding our very lives. I’ve been frustrated in identifying that seedling of potentially transformative perspective until now.
I have been reading a book authored by Dr. Carl Sagan entitled, Pale Blue Dot. It’s an exciting and deeply imaginative work by arguably the most popular and well-known astronomer and astrophysicist of recent generations; indeed, Sagan’s mixture of science and imagination are the ingredients of his notoriety. Imbedded within this book about our tiny planet- the “pale blue dot-” is a passage that has given me significant pause as I think about the scope and content of change over my own short existence on this earth:
[Seen from about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles, 40 astronomical units), Earth appears as a tiny dot (the blueish-white speck approximately halfway down the brown band to the right) within the darkness of deep space.]
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
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 us 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.”
The words take me to a different place, where I am forced to think of the world around me in a much broader context than daily life normally provides. Our self-importance, aspirations of grandeur, competitions for position and slights issued in the name of advancement crumble under the context of a pale blue dot floating anonymously through a universe so immense as to be incomprehensible.
The magnitude of the cosmos may not immediately suggest answers to the complexities of more efficiently getting product to market from the Nicaraguan countryside. But sometimes dreams of cosmic proportions provide insights to our selves that we might never have perceived through shorter sightedness. We need the stretch of the implausible, the unlikely. Besides, the challenges of everyday lives of Nicaraguans will never be solved by too-narrow thinkers whose solutions are restricted by current circumstance or self-serving acts. The answers to the conundrum of change are more likely to be found in contemplation of broader horizons.
I’m not at all sure that the “pale blue dot” will resonate with the workshop participants the way that it has for me; like the act of dreaming itself, sometimes you just have to try it to see what happens. But if there’s even a small chance that the message might impact a genuinely searching mind, it’s a prospect worth the stating. And eventually, an outlook which we must all take into account…