Perspective gives us the ability to accurately contrast the large with the small, and the important with the less important. Without it we are lost in a world where all ideas, news, and information look the same. We cannot differentiate, we cannot prioritize, and we cannot make good choices.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed how some things that were once important to me just don’t seem that earth shaking any more. I try to keep things in perspective – to focus on what’s truly significant – and let the trivial things go.
For instance, it no longer really matters who wins the Super Bowl or the World Series. I’m not concerned about reading the latest bestsellers or watching popular films or tv shows. And my world won’t collapse based on who wins the governor’s race or the presidential election.
You might wonder how I keep things in perspective. It’s simple: I think about where I fit in the larger scheme of things.
Scientists tell us that our universe was created some 13.7 billion years ago. In stark contrast, the life expectancy for humans born in developed countries is somewhere around 80 years. So we can expect to be here some .0005 of a second compared to the age of the universe.
Astronomers have estimated that there are around 100 billion galaxies in the known universe. To put that in perspective, if each man, woman and child on earth were given an equal number of galaxies, each person would own 13.5 galaxies.
What’s more, astronomers have estimated that there could be as many as 100 octillion stars. (That’s a one followed by 29 zeros.) Our sun is just one star in the vast universe.
These facts really put things into perspective for me. When I look at how large the universe is and how long it’s been around, I realize how insignificant our little planet is. The current inhabitants of our world will only be here a tiny fraction of a second compared to the total time the universe has been in existence.
So I’ve learned not to worry too much about what other people think of me. In the greater scheme of things – practically in the blink of an eye – we’ll all be gone. So it doesn’t pay to waste time worrying about what others think.
I’ve learned to be more tolerant of people and accept that we all have faults. Our time is too short to spend it consumed with petty grievances.
And I’ve learned to try to be more respectful of our planet. It’s been here a few billion years, but in the barest fraction of that time, modern lifestyles have caused serious damage to the environment. While we probably won’t live long enough to see the full consequences of our actions, we still have an obligation to leave the world no worse than we found it.
My hope is that you’ll think about how you fit into the universe – and in doing so, shift your perspective so you worry less about trivial things and focus more on helping others during your brief time on Earth.
When I look up in the universe, I know I’m small but I’m also big. I’m big because I’m connected to the universe, and the universe is connected to me.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Copyright © 2016 John Chancellor