I have always enjoyed the imaginary space voyages you take at planetariums in which the Earth quickly vanishes to nothingness as you travel through our solar system, then the Sun vanishes as you fly through the billions of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, which in turn vanishes as it become merely one of the billions of galaxies that make up the universe as we understand it today.
Surely, I am not the first middle-aged man on earth to conclude that in the vastness of space and time every one of us is utterly inconsequential. This may sound like the foundation of a bleak and despairing philosophy. But quite the opposite turns out to be true. Let me explain why.
As I stood in my garden the other day watching a group of ants move a leaf across the ground, I considered the ants from the vantage point of a distant galaxy. Even from the far reaches of the universe, it seemed reasonable to me that this leaf was important to the ants. Moving the leaf is their job, no less and no more important than what anyone or anything else was doing at that time.
“Wait a second,” you say, “you think I’m no more important than an ant?” And my answer is, “Yes. If you look at it from a galactic perspective, that’s right.” But let’s also look at it the other way. There are many people who are more famous, or earn more money, or have power over more people than do I. Are they more important than I am? NO! From the Andromeda galaxy, we are all pretty much the same.
This understanding affects my life every day, I think for the better. First, I am largely free of envy of those who have accomplished more than I. You are a CEO, a general, a president, a movie star. I’m an accountant. Congratulations to both of us! Second, I appreciate how lucky I am. I was born in a time and in a country that gave me freedom, with a mother and a father who spared me hunger, provided me the luxury of education and leisure, and allowed me to develop the skills from which I now earn a comfortable living and can support my family. Third, I feel more empathy for those who weren’t as lucky as me, because I see how truly close we are to one other.
This universal view of our inconsequence has allowed me to answer what I think is an important question: what do I want in life? The answer is: I want to be loved and respected. Why? There are many reasons, but one is sufficient: it feels good. To all who are listening I share this belief: act nicely and hang around nice people, and life will be more pleasant than if you act badly and hang around nasty people. Everything else will just follow.
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