The significance of being insignificant

Forty five years ago this month I was aboard a cargo ship as a Deck Cadet in the middle of the Indian Ocean bound for Malaya. I was on duty on the bridge with the 2nd Mate on the midnight – 4am watch. As I stood out on the wing of the bridge in the pitch black night with only the sound of the ships wave brushing the hull breaking the otherwise absolute silence, I looked skyward to see a myriad of stars and planets, some nearer than others and some so far away I could barely imagine the distance between us.

In the scale of things my presence was immeasurable, I was absolutely insignificant; yet I was significant in the sense I had control of a 12,000 ton ship with sixty lives on board, all reliant upon me doing my job; to them I was significant.

We were unlikely to hit an iceberg but contact with the tiny speck of another ships light seen dead ahead on the horizon that grew larger by the minute as we drew nearer to each other could have had the same effect as the Titanic’s meeting with the iceberg, so a collision was best avoided. The significance of our decisions saw us pass each other in complete safety as we steamed through the night and back into insignificance.

As human beings we have existed for three seconds in the 24 hour clock representing the life of our planet home; an insignificant amount of time; yet our actions in that period have had significant affect not only on the planet but amongst our fellow humans.

What must our uneducated ancestors have thought of the night sky? Is it any wonder Gods were created, how else could they account for the picture above them?

Here we are some quarter of a million years later arguing over the significance of our different beliefs about our different Gods, or as a humanist, our life without such a belief.

In another quarter of a million years if we haven’t finally found the ultimate method to destroy mankind in the name of a God, what sort of a world will it be? Will a ship still be crossing an ocean with a young man staring into the vastness of space realizing just how insignificant he is? What will it take for us to recognise and accept our differences which in one form or another will always remain?

As a humanist I like to think that if we could all believe in the good within human beings and in the individual’s right to freedom of choice, guided by logic and reason; then apply a rational and caring philosophy that reflects a belief in loving and respecting one another and the world in which we live, we might just find that our insignificance can produce a significant difference for everyone.


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