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Humans peer at their universe through a tiny peephole. The peephole may have been constructed by fears, religion, science, personal experience, or even tradition. We don’t all have the same one, and the one each of us uses is modified over the years. When astronauts first saw the Earth from space—the ultimate gift of technology, they were amazed at how small and fragile it appeared. They still couldn’t perceive the entirety that our little planet is, was, or could be. Some wander the earth imagining (or perhaps hoping) our world is flat or a program in cyber space. We don’t see ourselves much more completely. In fact, some look through their peephole thinking they’re observing the universe, not realizing they’re merely looking into a mirror. The point is we see only what we’re equipped to see and invent the rest. Education—formal or informal—was meant to improve the odds of discovery.
An unfortunate outcome of our peepholes is we use them to construct psychological enclosures as our ancestors constructed walled cities. Rather than notice that humanity is a single species with a common destiny and connections protect us, we have a defensive urge to divide and choose sides—from family to international levels. Certain religions that originated to unite people in empathy are twisted into what a friend calls social clubs that give permission for emotional and sometimes physical torture. Race, gender, or culture are also employed as handy dividers that decrease our ability to work together. Prejudice is often more pervasive than we expect—one against the other.
We on the planet are interdependent, owing much not merely to other humans but also to animals we once assumed were annoying. The PBS series NATURE and NOVA provide opportunities for us to glimpse how much of our reality we haven’t realized because of the tiny scope of our peepholes. A recent episode illustrated how elephants and termites work to preserve what’s left of the African savannahs. Many members of human populations threatened by floods, fires, drought, and violent weather refuse to believe humans have had anything to do with the crashing impact of climate change, regardless of the evidence. They don’t look around to see how devastating the effects of slower, natural climate change were in the distant past so they can be warned of what’s possible. Instant self-gratification and profit seem more important, although ancient cultures were wiped from existence by climate changes they ignored—the rich with the poor regardless of race or religion.
We emphasize our peepholes and pretend they’re comprehensive by creating compressed flashes of our impressions in textbooks, movies, and news. We’re in a hurry and glad to reduce reality to dramatic sound bites. I recently read the source book for the film HIDDEN FIGURES. I loved the intelligent feminine fierceness in the film, but the true stories of the people—black and white—who brought us into space were far less clear cut. Prejudice that divided nearby towns into hostile camps faded at NASA when the human ingenuity researchers needed came from both men and women from diverse races and cultures.
The vital importance of connection isn’t a woo-woo concept. Connections to others with diverse points of view are the bases of hope. They’re the power of survival. They help us build bigger peepholes to use to adapt and prevail—once we can realize we never see the whole reality. When we assume we can be perfectly correct, we are flirting with extinction. As Shelley wrote, “…And on the pedestal, these words appear:/ …Look on my Works, you Mighty, and despair!/ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay/ Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare/ The lone and level sands stretch far away.”