A spaceman went travelling – a parable
26/11/2013 § 3 Comments
A wandering spaceman one day came across a blue planet. Awestruck with its beauty, she approached and saw how it teemed with life, holding billions of creatures of marvellous beauty and diversity. Filled with joy and delight, she decided to pay a visit.
Landing on earth, she soon encountered creatures called humans, walking around on two legs. These were the most extraordinary creatures she had ever come across. They were beautiful, complex, mysterious, creative, capable of great courage, wisdom, compassion and nobility. Yet equally, she observed, they could be selfish, dull, brutish and capable of great cruelty and wilful ignorance. They had produced great works and yet had fought each other and wantonly destroyed each other and their cultures.
At the time of this visit, there were an awful lot of these humans on the planet and this was causing more than a few problems. The humans simply weren’t very good at sharing. They had got used to dividing up the planet into pieces, staking claims to parts, using up all the resources and then moving on to claim more. In recent times they had become particularly fond of a dark liquid, the remains of ancient sunlight that had been buried deep underground for millions of years. Strangely, it seemed, they weren’t actually eating this (it didn’t appear tasty anyway), Instead they used it to move themselves about rather aimlessly, to make playthings or status symbols that they quickly threw away, to grow food for animals that they then ate (a highly inefficient process, the spaceman observed) and to preserve their bodies at a constant temperature when their bodies were anyway well able to adapt to changes in temperature. All very mysterious, the spaceman thought.
It appeared that in the past there had been humans who had managed to live in harmony with the planet but somewhere along the way the knowledge had been lost. The spaceman was struck by the contrast between the unity of the planet from space, with no boundaries visible, and the numerous social boundaries created by humans on the planet itself.
Being very clever, the humans had invented complex ways to organise themselves. The most complex and impressive were called corporations, which were used to manage the processing of the planet’s resources – the digging up, refining, distributing and converting into (largely useless) items. These corporations also disposed of the waste, burning it or burying it in large holes in the ground. Yet the humans were not so clever are all. They had applied the same principle in the design of these systems as they had when exploiting the planet’s resources – the principle of domination. Some humans, the majority in fact, were viewed as simply more resources, to be processed for the benefit of others, a small and powerful minority. These privileged few, bizarrely, were treated as “owners” of these human systems. The owned were thus, the spaceman noted, robbed of their essential humanity.
By design the corporations served their owners and those who the owners had appointed to run them, their foremen (the so-called “board of directors”). For example, they paid staff as little as possible in order to maximise what was paid to the owners, and they viewed the planet in all its richness as something only fit to be converted into abstract figures known as money. The planet burned for the rich man’s pleasure.
Meanwhile these “owners” were able to deny any responsibility for the actions of their corporate slaves, through a clever device called “limited liability”. Nothing to do with me, they said.
So powerful had these corporations become that they had taken over, in mostly subtle ways, the governments which had been set up to represent the mass of people as a whole.
The spaceman was for some time very critical of these owners and their foreman. How could they behave in this way, she wondered? Yet, looking more closely, the spaceman realised that her initial judgments were erroneous. They were not, she observed, any worse (or better) than other humans. They were not, for the most part, evil or willfully bad. They were simply blind, ignorant, unable to see the big picture – and this applied to the oppressed and to the oppressors alike. Both parts colluded, unknowingly, in maintaining this unfairness, this fundamentally unjust set-up. They all lost out through their inability to see the whole.
The spaceman went to a quiet place and sat for a while, in sadness at the waste she had witnessed. The poisoning of oceans, lakes and rivers, the despoliation of grasslands, pristine forests, the relentless destruction of life. The waste, above all, of human potential.
She touched despair. Could nothing be done to help these remarkable creatures to help themselves, she wondered.
After a while, she got up and created a space. It was a beautiful space, peaceful, calm, inviting. She sat down in the centre and waited. In time, a human came and sat in the space. One by one, others joined her. There came into the space rich and poor, black and white, young and old, tall and short, male and female. Eventually, when the space was filled, the spaceman got up and started to talk.
“Listen” she said “If you can only learn to get on with each other, to share this beautiful planet, then there is more than enough for all of you. And to do that, you need to learn to sit together, to think together, to be together without strife. You need to learn not to judge, yourselves or others. You need to learn to listen to your hearts, to the innocence of your children, to the wisdom of your elders, to the rocks and streams and trees. To the planet.”
The people listened and sat quietly. After a while, one spoke “We’ve heard this all before.” he said. “Some have even tried it. But it doesn’t work.” “We can’t do it.” continued another. “It is our nature to fight, to be greedy, to seek to dominate each other and the planet. We know in the long run it doesn’t serve us but we can’t help it. We can’t change our nature.”
Silence returned for a while. Then an old woman spoke. “It is also our nature to be kind, loving and generous.” she said. Why can’t we simply choose that?”
A child piped up. “My granny is right. Can’t we listen to her? Please!”.
Eventually a tall man spoke, quietly but clearly. “What can we do?” he asked the spaceman.
The spaceman was about to answer and then stopped herself. “You know what”, she said. “I think you have to work that out for yourselves. I think that maybe that is why you are here. You have everything you need to get yourselves out of this mess. You all have the capacity to make a positive difference. Use it. And in doing so, simply in the attempt, you will find riches untold.”
“You live in a world of abundance and beauty, filled with wondrous creatures, of fabulous life in all its forms. If I could give you one gift it would be to see the world through my eyes. Your world is perfect – it is just your vision that is faulty”.
There was nothing more to be said. It was time to go. The spaceman wished the people well and took off, heading back to her home in a distant galaxy. She smiled to herself as she sped home at thousands of times the speed of light. “What a crazy bunch of mixed up people” she thought. “I wonder what will happen to them…”