Right now, people are faced with crises all over the world. While the people of the Middle East fight a life and death struggle to overcome tyranny, while the world is still recovering from natural disasters in Haiti, Kashmir and Pakistan, and while we grapple with global warming and a teetering world economy, we seem to be feeling vulnerable and more fragile than ever as individuals and as a species. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who has studied vulnerability for the past decade explores this feeling very poignantly in a recent TED presentation.
In her presentation, Brown encourages all of us to “embrace vulnerability” – a key ingredient to becoming what she calls “ wholehearted” people. Her research indicates that the vast majority of people who are happy, feel a deep sense of worthiness. Brown goes on to describe the key components of this sense of worthiness: People who have it tend to have the courage to be imperfect. They have compassion – first toward themselves. And they are able to cultivate and keep a sense of connection. Brown says we’d all be better off if we “let go of who we think we should be and become more of who we are.”
In reflecting on this video—which to be honest moved me to tears—I can’t get past the thought of how vulnerable we all feel at this time in history. Moreover, it seems that rather than confront our vulnerability and explore why we feel this way, we might well prefer to deny it or think we can escape the feeling altogether.
Ironically, while we have a full plate of crises and challenges here on Earth, humanity is taking a renewed and keen interest in planets far away and other celestial phenomena. In other words, if the here and now is too painful, why not just focus our attention on something else— the further removed from our current situation, the better?
For example, there is the plight of Pluto. According to a recent CNN.com article, “ For one of the farthest, coldest places in the solar system, Pluto sure stirs a lot of hot emotions right here on earth.”
It was three years ago that the International Astronomical Union demoted Pluto from one of the nine planets in our solar system to a diminished dwarf planet classification— a decision that clearly raised the hackles of its fans and which they are fighting to this day with fierce determination. Among the various initiatives of “Plutophiles”, earlier this year the Illinois Senate adopted a resolution declaring that Pluto was “unfairly downgraded” and demanded restoring it’s “full planetary status”. Not to be outdone by another state, New Mexico’s House of Representatives proclaimed on February 18, 2009 “Pluto is a planet in New Mexico Day.” If you want to join in on these pro-Pluto efforts, there are numerous ways to do so including printing out a Pluto Fan Club card, which allows you to declare, “ In my heart, Pluto will always be a planet.”
Meanwhile, there is the announcement of the recent discovery by NASA of five habitable Earth-size planets in the galaxy.
Moreover, NASA has discovered 1,200 other possible planets orbiting other stars in the Milky Way. This historic announcement was the result of the initial phase of the Kepler mission, a space observatory that covers only 1/400 of the sky and is only four months old. Extrapolating the numbers over the 3-½ year lifespan of the mission suggests there are about 20,000 planets in the habitable zone within 3,000 light years of Earth. “For the first time in human history we have a pool of potentially rocky habitable zone planets,” Sara Seager of MIT told the New York Times. “ This is the first big step forward in answering the ancient question, “ How common are other Earths?”
For me, the NASA discovery raises more questions than just the perennial “Is there life on other planets?” question. For one thing, if we did find intelligent life on another planet and we were able to communicate with them, what would we say? “Hello there, please understand that things are a bit untidy on Earth right now, but we are in the process of cleaning things up.” How would we feel about a set of alien eyes, and presumably a whole new planet’s collective moral sensibilities evaluating our evolutionary progress? Would such an occurrence inspire us to right our wrongs and strive toward reaching a higher standard as brothers and sisters of one human family? Would the discovery of some hipper, more savvy and more prepared civilization cause us to cash in our chips and forsake our Earthly home for better digs? Or would it inspire us to renew our commitment to each other and whip ourselves into shape?
As a huge Star Trek fan, or “Trekkie” who was fascinated with astronomy since childhood, I have nothing against space exploration, though I wish it would not cost so much. However, these days I am much more interested in what’s going on here, right in our own backyard of the galaxy. With my work at the Oneness-Family School, I am trying to do my small part to ensure that if that day of reckoning comes— and we come face–to-face with our alien counterparts— we will have a harmonious, clean and vibrant planet to show them. Empowering students to “find their own voice” is the goal I work toward every day. Because I believe, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, that the “greatest gift we can give the world is a portion of thyself.” In other words, if we can help a child to reach toward his/her fullest potential, then I know the planet will automatically become a more beautiful place.
Brown also shared in her TED presentation the four key choices that whole-hearted people make:
- They let themselves be deeply seen.
- They love with their whole hearts.
- They practice gratitude and joy.
- They feel, “ I am enough.”
I daresay if we practiced these four things we’d be taking some serious steps in the right direction toward individual “wholeness” and planetary harmony. And regarding “embracing vulnerability”, what other choice do we really have—as individuals or as a collective humanity?
Maria Montessori provides valuable insight on the role and impact of education, “The education that will lead the way to a new humanity has one end alone; leading the individual and society to a higher stage of development. This concept involves many factors and may seem obscure, but it becomes clearer if we realize that mankind has to fulfill a collective mission on Earth, a mission involving all of humanity and therefore each and every human being.”
As if to add a poignant exclamation point on all this otherworldly talk— and to shine a celestial light on the fragile planet we share—a recent meteor streaking above Harvard Square in Boston was actually photographed (accidentally) by photographer Brad Kelly of Somerville, MA.
“I was a little awestruck,” Kelly said, “It took my breath away.” Kelly didn’t realize he had taken a photo of a meteor, thinking it was a weird lens reflection. It wasn’t until he used his iPhone to take a photo of his camera’s display and posted it on his twitter page, that feedback poured in that others had seen a meteor in the sky at the same time and place.
Kelly’s experience and stroke of uncanny good fortune remind us all that standing here on planet Earth and gazing upward toward outer space is indeed a pretty cool experience. This particular planet is the only habitable one we currently know about for sure. Moreover, it is the only one we are in charge of keeping. So, I say let’s get going and make Mother Earth the envy of this corner of the galaxy! But as we collaborate anew, let’s be mindful that recent solar flare eruptions on the sun could make telecommunications difficult. 🙂