‘Saving us from ourselves’ | Sunday Observer

‘Saving us from ourselves’

The generations until 2009 had experienced war and violence that crippled Sri Lankan society for almost three decades. After the end of the war, there were less road blocks and almost no evening news with detailed accounts of deaths and major communal riots during the period 2009 to 2019. Thus, those who were born after 2009 did not experience the magnitude of these terrors until the Easter Sunday attacks on April 21, 2019. They did not see the uncertainty and fear that crippled the society.

This is why the Easter Sunday attacks become dangerous. Apart from the initial deaths and destruction, they have created a sense of perturbation and fear.

How many of us started looking at strangers with suspicion and wariness? How many of us are afraid if using public transport? How many of us have started checking on our loved ones to see whether they have arrived safely to their destinations? This fear is dangerous as it has started manifesting itself in more violent means, as exemplified by the communal violence against the Muslims of this country. The rumours and conspiracy theories are adding to this sense of unease in society. The conversations I have had with my friends and family are often resonating with these anxieties. ‘We don’t know who to trust anymore’ and ‘Where do we go from here?’ are the popular sentiments that many of them expressed. In this state of anxiety, I remembered Carl Sagan’s popular lines on Earth, which appears in the book “The Pale Blue Dot’ (1994). His words represent a universality that is true to human life on Earth.

They were inspired by the image taken by Voyager 1, a space probe launched by NASA. Being a space craft that travelled away from our solar system, it turned around one last time to capture the Earth on February 14, 1990. In Sagan’s own words, our pale blue planet is “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”. He further states,

“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 another, how fervent their hatreds.”

(Source: www.planetary.org/explore/space-topics/earth/pale-blue-dot.html).

History of violence repeats itself. These lines represent a universality that is evident even in Sri Lankan society today. It could have been religious fundamentalism or extremism that prompted one group of people to attack another group, along with misguided beliefs and self-imposed hatred. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, those who died were human beings. Whether, human life continues in this planet or not, everything will turn to dust one day and cease to exist. Wars, violence, greatness or triumph will not matter in the end. As Sagan says,

“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.”

(Source: www.planetary.org/explore/space-topics/earth/pale-blue-dot.html).

His words represent how insignificant we are as human beings, within a vast universal existence. Thus, our religions, nationality, ethnicity and beliefs also become insignificant, comparative to the vastness of cosmos. As creatures who are born to die, our duration of existence does not even amount to a fraction of a second in the cosmic clock.

Within our short life spans, we have to save ourselves from our own disillusionment, pointless violence and revenge. Thus, our society would be a better place if we can accept other individuals with their differences.

What we are experiencing within our society today are also a part of these disillusionments. The hatred we feel towards those who are not us, is astounding. However, thinking about the bigger picture of our own existence would help us to realise the pointlessness of these beliefs and encourage us to save us from ourselves. We can see the beauty of this universe only if we appreciate and accept the diversity.