Gesticulating g-strings on fire. The terminal velocity of bodies falling through space. How the universe will end. These are a few of the things lying in wait for those brave enough to read The Sky is Not the Limit, the memoir of America’s greatest living science communicator.
A lot has happened in the world during the past few weeks. In the U.S., police have served as both the perpetrators and victims in several widely publicized shootings. In France, a terrorist killed scores of people as he plowed into a large crowd gathered at a promenade in Nice. Throughout several countries in the Middle East, a string of bombings has left hundreds dead (this hardly got reported).
In times like these, it’s important to seek uplift; to choose not wallow in fear or submit to cynicism. Mainstream news can make this challenging since it’s often hard to find anything positive to hold onto. Death unfortunately, tends to sell more copy than hope. This is why I like to have positive resources at the ready. I keep a running folder of stored articles and videos that I add to regularly. I cycle through these when the world seems to be disintegrating to keep my perspective in balance.
One of my favorites is an excerpt from Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. I revisit this video a few times each year when I need a reminder to take a look at the world from a distant vantage point. This is a short video that packs a lot of wisdom into few words.
Sagan reminds us to stay humble–truly humble–in the face of our world’s problems. He reminds us that all of the things we kill and hate for seem absurd when you look at the world from the perspective of space, thousands of miles away. The Earth, a pale blue dot orbiting around a nearby star among billions of others, is the only home we have. We need to learn how to share it better.
For many of us growing up in a Western culture, our only exposure to the idea of forgiveness was during our childhood religious education. As our culture has become more secular, we have unfortunately lost the cultural conversation on forgiveness that went out along with religion.
This is a shame because with the condition the world is in right now, we desperately need a culture that is capable of forgiving more than ever. We need to learn how to integrate forgiveness better into our families, schools, legal system, places of work, and politics.
To move us closer to that goal, we need a secular understanding of what forgiveness is and how to do it. We need to make forgiveness relevant for the 21st Century.
The world is on fire right now. Anger, resentment, violence, and hatred–these are the themes pervading our news cycles. Every day we seem to be drifting towards self-destruction. Every day the 21st Century looks more and more like the last.
The hope that we had somehow learned the lessons of history and entered into a new era of peace now seems naïve. The optimism for a more peaceful century many of us had at the turn of the millennium feels deader with every news story.
It’s hard to summarize all of the events that have taken place in the past sixteen years into one global theme, but the dominant feeling of our zeitgeist seems to be existential anxiety.
The question we’re often confronted with is what do we do about all of this? The scope and reach of problems seems to be way beyond our control. Many grow tired of feeling paralyzed with anxiety and tune out of the news altogether. The madness just seems too great.
Note: This was a previous post I published on my thirtieth birthday.
Friends and family, today is the day I turn the big “three-oh”. As the date has been approaching, I’ve reflected on the life lessons I’ve learned in the past decade. I’d like to share some of those with you today.
- The single biggest contributor to happiness is having good relationships. Without good people in your life, nothing else matters.
- It’s important to pursue challenging goals, but ambitions can quickly make you miserable unless they’re pursued as just one part of a balanced life.
- You will never figure it all out–you won’t even get close. This isn’t a big deal.
- You don’t know what you want to do with your life at thirty and that’s okay. Wherever you find yourself, do what you’re doing well and never stop learning; never stop growing.
- There’s no rush. No finish line to cross. No peak to arrive at. Slow down and enjoy the ride. It goes faster than you think.
- Kindness, compassion, and sincerity are far more admirable qualities than savviness, ambition, and raw intellectual power. Without the former qualities, the latter are a waste, or worse–they can do an incredible amount of harm in the service of ill-conceived goals.
- Politics shouldn’t always get in the way of personal relationships. The fact is, politics are deeply complicated and most people who say things we think are politically stupid aren’t necessarily stupid on the whole. (They may even be brilliant at some other domain of excellence.) More often than not, the people we deem to be politically stupid are simply misinformed, under-informed, or just confused. Perhaps the truth you hold to be obvious and crucially important was never presented in the right light. Perhaps you have yet to glimpse the whole truth yourself and that person has a small piece of it. What I’ve discovered is that what a person believes in politically says more about his ability to think critically about complex social issues than it does his character. I’ve met too many activists whom I initially respected because they supported worthwhile causes, only to later be disappointed when they behaved like arrogant narcissists who knew little about what they were advocating for. I’ve also been surprised too many times by the kindness and general decency of some people I know who hold views I consider reactionary and maybe even detestable. In the book of a person’s life, politics usually represent the cover, not the content. After all, we all have blind spots where our intelligence doesn’t shine so bright. How many times have we done, said, or thought things where upon looking back, we feel a flicker of shame at how stupid we were? It’s important to allow for that in others too.
- Believing money ‘doesn’t matter’ is naïve and a little self-indulgent. (In my experience, people who who tend to believe this are financially secure.) Now, let me be clear–no, I do not think money alone will make you happy. It’s certainly not the most important pursuit in life, either. But when you’re not meeting your basic needs, it’s hard to think about higher things that are worth thinking about–art, philosophy, love, and having fun to name a few. Food and shelter cost money. Education costs money. Travel, dinner with friends, and pursuing interesting hobbies cost money. Raising children cost money. So yes, money does matter. Rather than seeing it as the ‘root of all evil’, it’s better to think of it as a useful resource that should be acquired mindfully and managed wisely.
- You can burn an incredible amount of energy on needless worry and anxiety. Very little of the time invested in worrying about things outside of your control results in anything useful. Learn to let go sooner than later.
- Plans are useful, but so is allowing life to unfold on its own terms. We can’t impose our will on life. Instead, we need to learn to ride the wave.
- Health! Get on that shit! With the exception of having great relationships, there isn’t anything as important than having the energy, outlook, and balance that good health provides. I took my health for granted in my twenties and later realized that this was the single biggest mistake I made during that entire decade. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way. Work on your mind and and work on your body. It will pay dividends big and small in ways unexpected.