Joining the Dots to Create Perspective
Making sense of the dot-to-dot puzzle that is life
Yesterday was my birthday. 54 if you’re asking, basically still 42 I’m thinking. I got some lovely thoughtful presents including one that has had my mind both racing and focused for the last 24 hours. It was a copy of the Pale Blue Dot photograph taken by Voyager 1 as it left our Solar System in 1990, turning one last time to look at where it had come from and snapping - in a sliver of sunlight - the Earth: a tiny, pale blue dot some 4 billion miles away. This single image has already helped me re-consider the dot-to-dot puzzle of life and allowed me to connect the dots of my knowledge to create a better perspective.
Perspective is an interesting word. Defined as a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something. It’s a point of view. It’s not right, nor wrong, just the way you choose to see things at any given moment.
And at this moment, I’m in danger of choosing to see the 54 year milestone as re-confirmation that there is less ahead than there is behind for me. The number of ideas, and the amount of energy I still have to change things divided by the time to do them definitely requires smarter thinking. I must better fight rushing to get on with stuff before prioritising and considering properly the outcomes I’m looking to achieve.
And at this moment in world history we are all in danger of choosing to see the perspective of life through a universal, shadow filled, lens where COVID has catastrophically threatened broad human evolution and our narrow individual lives, and we each feel helpless as we can’t easily see a solution. At the same time, we know that the economic truth about Brexit is just weeks away from being revealed but none of us know what that will deliver for us nationally or individually, or even what framework it will operate under. We also might be thinking of the imminent US elections and the wildly different futures for all of us that the results of the Presidency and the Senate votes might bring; or of our powerlessness against the sabre rattling by, or with, China, or Russia, or Iran, or North Korea. In short, it’s a time when short term anxiety can easily dominate our thinking and therefore our perspective. And perhaps more than ever, it can all seem so volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.
In recent months I’ve done a number of podcasts and webinars - often loosely looking at success and the alchemy around people who seemingly achieve it. But perhaps more than in any other area - success undoubtedly is defined by the perspective and focus of both the questioner and of the respondent. What are the metrics, the timeframe, the desired outcome and - vitally - what does it matter are the real building blocks that support perspectives on success. Bob Marley’s perspective of not gaining the world and losing your soul, and that wisdom is better than silver or gold - is one I've chosen to repeatedly go back to as I've looked forward over the years.
Perspective: as George Harrison once said, ‘it’s all in the mind’. Because of it, we see what we want to see, or perhaps what others want us to see; and yesterday I - a dreamer as much as a realist, and a glass half full person - realised, through receiving this one present, that I’ve fallen into the rabbit hole of losing mine.
Zoom has become a defining word of 2020, so I think it’s a good one to use to relook at our own perspectives of who we are. Yesterday, I had the chance to stop and zoom in really close to the things that really count in my life: family, kindness, love and laughter; and also zoom out to a perspective beyond the world as it is today - for my present, that Pale Blue Dot image, is the biggest perspective any human being has ever witnessed.
The photograph inspired Carl Sagan to write:
'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
Copyright © 1994 by Carl Sagan, Copyright © 2006 by Democritus Properties, LLC. All rights reserved including the rights of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
And so, yesterday I changed my recent perspective of life and the personal picture I create when I join its dots. In doing so, I’ve realised how easily and inadvertently we can get stuck in a rut of a single perspective and believe that’s how things are. It’s through opportunities to discover the ‘new’ and be awoken with a jolt that our understanding is refreshed, our compass reset and our energy renewed.
Joining the dots: from the vitally significant to the insignificant and back - that’s the perspective I’m starting my 55th year determined not to forget as I wake up each new morning and wonder what difference I can make that day. Thank you Carl Sagan and our beautiful, everything-but-nothing dot.
photograph: (c) NASA/JPL-Caltech