“When they discover the center of the universe, a lot of people will be disappointed to learn they are not it.” ~ Bernard Bailey
We’ve discovered a lot about the universe, and still there is so much more to learn. As we learn about outer space, it teaches us more and more about inner space. Think about the idea that we are the center of the universe.
The pivotal moment for young Galileo came when he was 15. He had taken his family’s horse and buggy out late one night, and his parents missed a dinner appointment. When he came home, his parents said, “Gal, we need to talk. You need to learn that the world does not revolve around you.”
This comment sparked a lifelong fascination for Galileo with the movement of the earth and other planets. Well not really. I made that story up. But Galileo DID spend his life bringing new insight to the world about the earth’s place in the universe.
We all have aha moments, when we come to realize our place under the sun. It’s not always an easy lesson to learn. My favorite parenting line says, “I’m sorry you’re mad you just found out the world doesn’t revolve around you. Here, let me pour you a big glass of “get over it”.
There are many problems with believing we’re the center of the universe. We tend to take things more personally, imagining that everything is about us, or else we take on too much responsibility, imagining that everything depends on us. Or else we start to feel entitled, as though opportunities should be handed to us on a platter. When things don’t go our way, it shakes the foundation of our worldview.
Those are some of the personal issues with believing the world revolves around us. There are other bigger issues too. When humans think the universe revolves around us as a species, we can get reckless with the earth, as if the rest of the planet exists for our enjoyment or outer space exists for our amusement. Too often, white, heterosexual men think we hold the bulb while the rest of the universe turns for us, and this justifies all sorts of tragic discrimination.
The bottom line, whether its personal or social issues is that thinking the sun shines out of our foreheads makes us insensitive to other beings. We need to know our place in order to be generous, thoughtful and fair in all our dealings. The world doesn’t revolve around any one of us. It’s more accurate to say that each of us revolves around the world. The more we travel, the more we are exposed to the size and scope of diversity in the world, the more we know our place.
This is what it was like for me to stand outside Galileo’s house in Florence recently and see his tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce with its representation of the solar system on it. To see Galileo’s tomb next to Michelangelo and Machiavelli’s tombs and to see the place where Leonardo Da Vinci tried to fly on the hills above Florence, makes you appreciate that you are part of a long line of explorers and adventurers.
Galileo didn’t invent the telescope. But he did create a telescope that was powerful enough to see things never seen before. After seeing the moon’s craters, the phases of Venus and satellites of Jupiter, he proved the Copernican theory that earth was just one of many planets that revolve around the sun and not the other way around. Earth is a very ordinary backwater in a massive universe. Galileo helped put us in our place under the sun. We are small, but not insignificant. We have a place, but we don’t own the place. We are a part of the universe, but we are not as self important as we think we are.
You are not the heart of the universe, but the heart of the universe is IN you. The awareness that ALL beings are worthy of love and respect exists inside you, and is the heart of compassion.
Mr Rogers put it like this,
At the center of the universe is a
loving heart that continues to beat
and that wants the best for every person.
Anything we can do to help foster
the intellect and spirit and emotional growth
of our fellow human beings, that is our job.
Those of us who have this particular vision
must continue against all odds.
Life is for service.