The past few weeks have given me a great deal to reflect upon: the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by Russian separatists, the continued war between Hamas and Israel (apparently there are now at least over 1,000 civilian Palestinian lives lost), and the not so covert racism and homophobia here in the United States. When I think about these events and activities in conjunction with the weight of other horrific moments in the world’s history, I am left wondering: What must any existing intelligent lifeforms in the universe be thinking of humans?
While I am not certain there exist other forms of intelligent life in the universe, I do think it is a bit arrogant to think humans are the only intelligent lifeforms. Lately, I have been thinking how I would hate to be judged by some of the awful actions of other humans. I think about how we treat girls and women around the world; how we treat the LGBT community, and people of color. Every time a James Byrd, Jr. is killed, a Larry King is killed, we have painful reminders that only certain people are safe to navigate the world.
While humans have only occupied the earth for the tiniest fraction of time in the over five billion years the earth has existed, we have managed to wreak an amazing amount of destruction. I can only imagine what one might think as an observer from far away. I would hate to be painted with the same brush as Chairman Mao and his agents of the “Cultural Revolution.” Nor would I care to be thought of alongside the triumvirate of Hitler, Stalin, and Franco, or even the 21st Century’s collection of agents of hate and terror. Certainly there have been many wonderful people who tried to improve the world, but history shows us more bloodthirsty crusades than productive, peaceful assemblies.
I still would like to believe that there are more basically good people in the world than basically bad. Sadly, our systems are increasingly set up to let the greedy and jealous grab and hold power. Millions are oppressed and marginalized, unable to use their voices for anything other than basic survival. Millions more are exhausted by longer working hours and horrific commutes, and then we seem to only be able to find some salve by being anesthetized by television.
If we want those hypothetical viewers from distant stars to think kindly of us, we need to engage. My hope is we can take time everyday to reflect on how we work to create relationship with one another. How can we use kindness and generosity of heart? How can we use empathy?
When the dinosaurs — the last great “rulers of earth” — were wiped out, it was by a cataclysm that their basic brains and inability to use sophisticated tools left them unable to reverse or remediate. What will be our excuse?