Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Voice of One

This is the only time I can remember writing on a topic that has nothing to do with Parkinson's, though it does address an "illness" of another sort. 

I watched a DVR recording of the latest in the new "Cosmos" series this morning.  They played a recording of Carl Sagan sharing reflections from his book, A Pale Blue Dot, based on seeing a photograph of earth taken from the Voyager satellite before it exited our solar system years ago.  Here is what he said:

A Pale Blue Dot

This excerpt from Sagan's book Pale Blue Dot was inspired by an image taken, at Sagan's suggestion, by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990. As the spacecraft left our planetary neighborhood for the fringes of the solar system, engineers turned it around for one last look at its home planet. Voyager 1 was about 6.4 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) away, and approximately 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane, when it captured this portrait of our world. Caught in the center of scattered light rays (a result of taking the picture so close to the Sun), Earth appears as a tiny point of light, a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size.
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 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. 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.
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.
-- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

I have bolded comments Sagan made that were still ringing in my ears when I heard a news report that there has been yet another shooting incident, this time at a high school in Oregon.

My reaction was probably the same as every other caring human being.  Why do these things keep happening?  What is wrong with our world?  How can we put an end to this madness?

What can I do as one small piece of this giant puzzle?  What good is the voice of one (crying in the wilderness)?

Then I realized that what I can do is speak up and say "I've had enough!" and that I have a platform of sorts to do so.  This inconspicuous blog has been visited by over 11,000 people in 60+ countries around the world.   I can't put a stop to this, but WE can. 

Not that it will be easy.  It hasn't gotten this way overnight.  Witness Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Joseph Stalin, Hitler, Al Qaeda, our own Civil War and countless other individuals and groups throughout history.  But don't stop there.  Think about the mindset that has evolved right here in our own back yard.

The process has been insidious and has occurred on a grand scale.  Our own country has become divided along ideological, political, gender, class, and other lines that have created a level of animosity and angst beyond anything I have experienced in my sixty five years.  Worse than that, we have come to believe these feelings are justifiable!  "How fervent their hatreds!" Sound familiar?

The bad news is that we have allowed this to happen.  Our political "leadership" (and this refers to both parties, by the way), instead of talking about strategies for working together for the common good, too often has inundated the public with deceitful campaigns designed specifically to create these divides.  Not only have many of us "taken the bait", developing calcified points-of-view, but we exacerbate the problem by sharing these with other members of our chosen "herds" via social media and other communication.  So disdain, if not outright hatred, has become acceptable and the "new normal".

And this is only part of the problem.  There has been a lot of talk about deterioration of families and "family values".  Marriages that produce children are ending, too often, in divorce at an alarming rate, creating confusion in children's minds and lives (in some cases, not all) that lay an unfortunate foundation for too many troubled adults.  Even when there are two parents, how many of us are taking the time from lives filled with so many competing wants and priorities to implant values in our children that will help them discern right from wrong in the future?

Though I believe that faith can play a crucial role in all of this, I will say that I know families who instill positive values in their children but are not "people of faith".  At the same time, I see other families who make faith an important part of their lives that experience benefits that I would wish for any individual or family.

I am talking about "foundational" values that provide a "true north" for all of us.  Not that we always stay on target, but when we stray, we know it.  These values can be instilled by parents, family, church, schools, friends, and more.

Other factors have been discussed, including the level of violence children are exposed to through media, video games, and more.  My feeling is that children that are armed with a strong foundation will grow into adults who will, at least, know right from wrong. 

Please understand that I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I feel compelled to try to initiate a dialog that will lead to positive change.  Each one of us has to do our part to turn the tide.  Here are some things that I plan to do:
  1. Continue to try to model for my family, however imperfectly, love for others and willingness to hear, without disparaging, other points-of-view.
  2. Have the courage to speak out to say something is wrong when it seems appropriate.
  3. Have the wisdom to keep my mouth shut when that is appropriate.
  4. Take my obligation as a U.S. citizen seriously when considering which candidate will provide the leadership this country needs and a positive framework of mutual respect and forbearance.


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