“…to deal more kindly with one another…” A Big Picture perspective from the late Carl Sagan

Like everyone else, I have been feeling crushed and deeply dispirited by the dreadful events in France last Friday, and now Mali today. I’ve also been feeling the need to post something on my blog by way of response. Thanks to Robert Bruce over at 101 Books, I found a wonderful quote from the late scientist Carl Sagan which offers a large enough perspective to encompass the horrors currently happening across our beautiful planet.  It was inspired by an image of Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft on February 14, 1990 from a distance of more than 6 billion kilometres. In it, our Earth appears as a tiny dot against a background of  muted slanting bands of colour. I have taken the liberty here, though,  of illustrating the quotation with the most famous picture of the Earth ever taken:

Our beautiful planet
Our beautiful planet

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

I took some comfort from this wise statement. What do you think of what Sagan says here? Do you have favourite quotes to which you turn in dark times?


500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


14 thoughts on ““…to deal more kindly with one another…” A Big Picture perspective from the late Carl Sagan

  1. There are times when words enter our hearts, flow through the turmoil of our emotions and find that place of calm that our jumbled and distressed thoughts cannot capture……and then……sigh……we can find our way back in the silence and connection to our higher consciousness……not that we truly understand how any human being can kill another nor how the motivation rises up to consume those that do carry out such an act……we can only resolve to have faith and trust that our thoughts and prayers do make a difference in the world and in the collective consciousness building a power based on unconditional love for our fellow humans that brings calm and peace to ALL minds……I remember reading words a long time ago that have always stayed with me, that ‘for every soldier holding a rifle, there are 10,000 lighting a candle’……may that be the light that shines for ALL, the light of peace, the light of love.

    Thank you Anne for all the thought provoking words that you ‘Write from the Twelfth House’ – you are an inspired writer. Bless you. Julia x

    1. Julia, thank you so much for visiting and for your thoughtful, hopeful words. I love the quote and will remember it.
      And a special thanks for your kind words about my writing. They help in making my own efforts feel worthwhile!

  2. Dear Anne
    Thank you for your kind thoughts and higher senses towards humanity, I understand how responsible your words are ,and how deep is the meaning.
    Every time I read from the twelve house every time I feel the wisdom pouring in my soul, how grateful I am for you.


  3. My long-time blog friend Linda Leinen, over at https://shoreacres.wordpress.com, has reminded me of this wonderfully consoling poem by Wendel Berry which I have written about and posted before. Here it is again – with many thanks, Linda.

    The Peace of Wild Things

    When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

  4. Reading this post, I am reminded of Neil Armstrong’s quote “One small step for man,” which is also relative to “one small act of kindness,” It is these small acts that we alone can do to change lives and eventually change the world.

    1. Many thanks for pointing this out, Bev. Jung also pointed out that the place to start if we wanted to change the world was with ourselves – and in particular with facing own shadow material.

  5. Great quote. Science is so humbling and yet, it seems to have the opposite effect on today’s society. What fuels us to ignore the humbling facts that come from science and instead use it only to increase our comforts and artificially build our confidence? Science is mostly used to (futilely) fight our inevitable ends rather than show us who we really are.

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Kilaya. Your comments made me think of the humility exhibited by Isaac Newton, one of the world’s greatest-ever scientists, when he said” I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” The Dawkinses of this world could do with cultivating a little of that humility…

  6. Hello Anne. I’m new to your blog. I love this thought provoking post. I think Carl Sagan was saying together we can destroy our world … individually we can save it. One of my favourite quotes that I like to remember was from Anais Nin, “Societies in decline have no use for visionaries”. We need and have visionaries in our world. I find this is always a good thing to remember in dark times.

    1. Many thanks for dropping by, Belinda – much appreciated! And many thanks for the Anais Nin quote – I read all of her Diaries when in my late 20s and early 30s. There’s a lot of wisdom therein…And how I agree with you concerning visionaries! Carl Jung, one of my life’s key visionaries, once observed also that if we want to change the world we need to start with ourselves. From the point of view of individual power of choice regarding how to conduct oneself, I think that – paradoxically – individuals have more power to change the trajectory of their path than do states or nations. Good luck with your blog – I’ve already dropped by today, and will be back. All good wishes Anne

      1. I too will be back Anne! I’ve been thinking about this post constantly since reading it. I do enjoy unexpectedly coming across something that pokes my mind!

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