The epic solar eclipse of 2017 inspired countless articles and news reports over the past few weeks. The rarity of the event caused many of us to look heavenward and contemplate the vastness of space, the immensity of the universe and our place in it. As human beings living on planet Earth, we have been long overdue for a moment of cosmic perspective.
My good friend and mentor Barry Packer popped into my office last week and suggested I pick up a little book by Neil deGrasse Tyson titled "Astrophysics for People in a Hurry." I definitely qualified for the “in a hurry” portion of the title, though I wondered what in the world, or what in the universe, I would need the astrophysics part for. Little did I know that I was about to learn a priceless lesson.
In the last chapter, deGrasse Tyson delivers the powerful and surprising definition of the cosmic perspective. He simply writes, “The cosmic perspective is humble.” Humility as the essence of the cosmic perspective was perspective-changing for me. Tyson makes a compelling case that once we recognize that we are not the center of the universe and realize how small we are in relationship to the immensity of planets, systems and galaxies — our newfound humility will actually transform how we interact with our fellow travelers on planet Earth.
Recognizing our humble place in the universe would prevent us from falling into trifling arguments, social media tantrums and resentment over trivial matters. Dr. David Bobb, in his work "Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue," writes, “Cocksure, supercilious, and narcissistic displays of arrogance abound in every arena of life while acts of humility go unnoticed and unheralded. Our age of arrogance obscures the idea that humility is the indispensable virtue for the achievement of greatness.”
Arrogance is unteachable, intolerant and tyrannical — and those who possess it may amass power for a moment but will never lead others to higher levels of living. Humility has reverence for new ideas and awe for the inspiration of others — and understands that no one is irreplaceable. Those who possess humility are prone to carefully consider things they never had supposed while fostering the development of superior solutions.
The humility of the cosmic perspective is what transforms a manager into a leader, an instructor into a teacher, a politician into a statesman and an acquaintance into a trusted friend. Bobb stated, “Humility enables courage and points wisdom in the right direction. It is the backbone of temperance, and it makes love possible.” American history has been driven by such humble citizen-servants who — while having passion, drive and ambition — recognized their place in the universe and were willing to play their part in the miracle of it all.
It is time for America to return to humility and the myriad benefits that come with it. The humility to admit when we are wrong, to confess we don’t have all the answers, to seek to understand those we disagree with, to ask for forgiveness and to be willing to play our part in our families and communities — this cosmic perspective would forever change our world and the lives of billions.
I was blessed to live in a neighborhood with a man who understood the cosmic perspective and demonstrated that humility was not weak, but immensely powerful. JE Stewart was one of the grandest souls I ever met: humble, quiet, forever observing, and occasionally sharing his insightful views on the world, our place in it and our duty to help and serve those who live on it.
In 2014, I was walking through the Capitol in D.C. when I heard the news that JE had passed away. I was standing in between the statuary hall and the rotunda where large sculptures of great, yet humble men like Washington, Lincoln, Reagan, Brigham Young, Martin Luther King and many others are placed. As I choked back my tears, I looked around the hall and for a moment I could see a new statue placed among the greats of history. It was a statue of JE Stewart sitting in an overstuffed chair with grandchildren around him — and at the base was the tribute “Majestic Humility.” JE showed that living the cosmic perspective of humility was absolutely majestic.
Hopefully our focus on the cosmos this summer will lead us to eclipse our arrogance with the cosmic perspective of humility and convince us of the need to apply this powerful principle to every aspect of our lives.
Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.