In 1956, the year I was born, the estimated population of the world was 2.82 billion. Today, the estimated population is 7.87 billion. As the human population grows bigger, the world grows smaller. The small-ness of the world was reflected in how fast the COVID – 19 virus spread around the world. The image “7 degrees of separation” emerged in 2006 to demonstrate how connected we really are. According to a RedOrbit article from 2008, “A study conducted by researchers at Microsoft Corp. used instant messaging data to confirm the theory that it takes just under seven steps to link everyone in the world. The researchers reached their conclusion based on the addresses of 30 billion instant messages sent among 180 million people worldwide during a single month in 2006. They found that, on average, any two people are linked by fewer than seven acquaintances.”
It is often striking to me the ways we seek to deny our inter-relatedness to one another. We look at the world and refuse to see our impact upon it, either individually or collectively. We consume, live within the context of our own impulses, and sometimes even measure our own value based on the goods and services we are able to accumulate. My goal here is not to say, “this is good” or “this is bad”, but rather, can we honestly be aware?
COVID – 19 has revealed to us how closely linked we are. It has shown us the way in which our behavior has real consequences on others. We know that the vaccine does not have 100% efficacy. We know that even when vaccinated, we need to remain vigilant in masking, handwashing, and distancing. Those who have refused the vaccine do not get to stop being vigilant because others have chosen to get it. As I write this, another infection wave is building in our area. We are connected, each one of us. Awareness of this is helpful. It is also just a start.
Many years ago I ran into “A Partial Register of the 927 (or was it 928?) Eternal Truths” laid out by the author Sheldon Kopp in If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him. A few of those truths:
30. We have only ourselves, and one another. That may not be much, but that’s all there is.
31. How strange, that so often, it all seems worth it.
32. We must live within the ambiguity of partial freedom, partial power, and partial knowledge.
33. All important decisions must be made on the basis of insufficient data.
34. Yet we are responsible for everything we do.
37. It is most important to run out of scapegoats.
41. You are fee to do whatever you like. You need only to face the consequences.
Can 7.87 billion people learn to live together? The alternative is destruction, so I hope so. Living together always happens here and now in our awareness. It is reflected in how we care for one another. Caring for one person is as if a pebble is dropped into a pond. In seven rings from that initial splash the whole world is touched (i.e. seven degrees of separation). Ponder that.