We are small. There’s no way around it. We are a humble part of a feast of parts, most of which we do not know. On Christmas Eve, 2013, this photograph by NASA seems an appropriate image. (If you click on the photograph, you should get a larger image; more at link below) It’s taken from the International Space Station, looking at the Nile River delta emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. You can make out the curve of the earth, the lights of human development, the cooler blue above land and the deeper blue of the Mediterranean. You probably notice the image appears upside down. But of course it’s not. We are in space just as the photograph shows. Even the posture of the photograph is arresting. Which is partly why I love it so much.
How can we look at an image like this and not see what it has to teach us? Our smallness. Our delicate, human smallness. I can only imagine what might happen, if from this smallness, our sense of ourselves in this image, we could develop a Politics of Humility. Imagine a politics based on our portion in the whole of the earth. Imagine a politics based on our smallness, our dependence, our need for one another and for the planet.
This image shows no Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, or Christian. It reveals no Americans, Palestinians, Kenyans, Chinese. From this distance, the often-named Big Picture, we can see that we are but a small part of a far greater whole, a network of wholes, really. We are one spark, in one cluster, in one constellation, in one tribe of constellations, in a galaxy of tribes of constellations. Where then, do we get the confidence to pronounce on things? Where do we get the confidence to be certain of anything? Where do we find the certainty to own? To order others about? To decide who is paid? To go to war?
A Politics of Humility might yield to us the rare gift of reverence. Imagine a politics, a way of being in our communities, that reverences others. Imagine a politics which requires us to listen deeply to those we do not know or understand or agree with. Imagine being on both sides of that listening– and having to explain to another why we think, feel, hold the certainties we hold.
We might find a far richer peace if we sought more humility. But humility is pretty out of fashion these days. Have you ever heard a parent dream that their child grows up to be humble? Yet isn’t it possible that with more humility — seeing that our true place is with others, among others, not over them, running them– we would unleash a mighty calm upon the world. Imagine a humility that listens among American Democrats and Republicans, among the Chinese and Japanese, among different ethnic groups in South Sudan. Imagine a humility that listens among Israelis and Palestinians. Imagine a humility that listens among Americans of different economic classes, different racial and ethnic groups. Imagine a humility that listens among Shiite and Sunni, among Taliban and mainstream Afghanis, among men and women, among gay and straight.
Before you completely decide I’m writing utopian nonsense, remember that Nelson Mandela imagined just such a humility and he turned it into a politics. Imagine if we took a group of ten world leaders and made them stay together in the International Space Station– looking out the windows for– two weeks. What might happen? Who should be among that ten?
If this is nonsense, let me just suggest that our current politics of power, of domination, is not working either. Are you happy with the politics of the present? So how about a Politics of Humility?
More images of earth from the ISS at this link: http://triggerpit.com/2011/09/01/earth-iss-photos-astronaut-ron-garan-35-pics/