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Earth from NASA’s Terra Satellite

What can we learn from mortality? Mortality, like the air we breathe, the sky above our heads, and threads of common DNA, binds us together with all the other human beings on this shrinking planet. Yeah, I know, the planet is not shrinking, but its ability to sustain us at our current levels of consumption and procreation is shrinking, thereby forcing us all into closer proximity than is comfortable.

I believe this closer proximity thing is a huge contributing factor to the anger and angst that pits us against each other all around the world. Living closer together—as we know from the pitfalls that routinely trip up marriages—accentuates the differences between us. We compete for resources. Our actions become tipping points that annoy our neighbors beyond their limits of self-control. We fight over water, food, and lifestyles. We become judgmental of our neighbors. We form ideologically-based pods that separate us even further, while the space between us continues to shrink. It is all a recipe for the disaster that is happening right before our eyes.

But mortality binds us. In a Sun Magazine interview on “How Fear of Death Affects Our Lives”Professor Sheldon Solomon observes:

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become enthused about viewing myself as radically inconsequential. I am a respiring piece of carbon-based meat, born in a time and place not of my choosing, here for an infinitesimal amount of time before I will be summarily obliterated and my atoms redistributed. I find that self-image ironically uplifting at this point in my life.

Our death-denying culture goes to extraordinary efforts and expense to eek out one more year, month, or day for the terminally ill. The sanctity of the individual is an almost cult-like feature of western society that focuses attention on the individual rights and freedoms of our inconsequential pieces of meat, while overlooking the shining miracle and beauty of each day of simply breathing in and out. What if each of us were to embrace the inevitability of our brief and, in relationship to the vastness of humanity, our utter unimportance in the world? Would we, could we become more humble? more able to see how little our myopic ideology and personal needs are in the grander scheme of life? Could we learn, as successful couples must learn, to celebrate our similarities while respecting our differences? Perhaps we could accomplish a great deal more for our planet from within this calm and nurturing humility than we currently do in ideological, political, and bellicose warfare.